Reading in 2018

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Reading in 2018

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jan 6, 2018, 3:44 pm

I finished Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc - The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way Across Europe by Patrick K. O'Donnell.

This is an ultimately well done history of the Rangers who took on some of the toughest and most deadly missions of the invasion of Europe, starting with scaling the massive cliffs of Pinte du Hoc under heavy fire on D-Day to go after a set of heavy artillery pieces that had command of the Normandy beaches.

I actually started this book with a bit of trepidation, as the author is described on the inside back cover as a "combat historian, bestselling author and renowned leadership speaker." It was that third item that set raised my defenses a bit, as I feared I'd be reading a motivational tome rather than a good and accurate military history. There is a bit of ham-fisted writing, especially in the book's early going as the assembling and training of the group is described. The lessons of that training are described as seeping into the soldiers' "every bone and fiber," for example.

Once the men go to war on D-Day, however, that sort of rah rah bravado gets mostly left behind. O'Donnell clearly did a lot of research and conducted as many interviews with veterans of the company as he could, along with walking all of the battlefields. I don't want to give the wrong idea. The achievement of these men was truly impressive and, well, inspirational in many ways. And O'Donnell does not stint from intense, detail-filled descriptions of the moment by moment fears and horrors of combat, particularly the effects of trying to survive, physically and mentally, one prolonged and terrifying artillery barrage after another for days on end. I learned a lot.

apr 7, 2018, 11:40 am

Back to D-Day for me, with what I guess is the classic on the topic, The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. I learned a lot of new information (for me) about the invasion. Also, the book is extremely readable. I'm glad I finally got to this.

apr 11, 2018, 12:33 pm

Finished listening to an excellent The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer — The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom Bomb by James Kunetka. The book also covers in great detail the building up of the Los Alamos site and the development of the atomic bomb. Highly recommended, also the Audible narrator Malcolm Hillgartner is excellent.

aug 8, 2018, 1:22 pm

I cannot Recommend highly enough The Long Take by Robin Robertson. This is a masterpiece. It is fiction in verse form and in the author's notes he sites, Conduct Unbecoming as a source book he relied on for inspiration and historical significance.

A very special book!

I have written a review which can be viewed on LT.

aug 12, 2018, 5:03 am

I fluked getting the book Mary and Richard, about Richard Hillary and his older lady love, written by her husband, Michael Burn, (who married her in 47, after being a POW for years), in an opshop, not realising that 2 weeks earlier, I had picked up Faulks' book in a different opshop, which was a brief bio of 3 englishmen who died young, the second of whom was Richard Hillary, (tho Richard was born in Australia).

Burns knew of the romance from almost the start of their relationship and she invited him to read the letters she had kept safe, but he didn't, until she had died. Perhaps I would have felt more for the book if Burns had told more of their life together. It certainly has a romantic start. He sees the most beautiful woman he's ever seen in a restaurant or night club, across the room, goes to his CO's place and she opens the door and he finds out she's a cousin or somesuch of the CO but then he is sent into battle, ends up a POW of the Germans, for years and when he returns, determines to try to track her down, to see if he has any hope. Richard is dead at 23ish in 1943 and Mary is in her 40's then.

Sebastion Faulks' book about 3 brief lives - the 2nd short biography was Richard Hillary. I had only read Hillary's own book 'The Last Enemy' and was left deeply depressed at Faulk's description of where Hillary ended up and how everybody knew he shouldn't be flying, especially the difficult plane he was having to fly to graduste to a bigger but easier to fly plane, (in regard to his damaged hands).

To read that McIndoe had FINALLY sent a letter saying GROUND HIM and it sat in the station MO's in tray whilst he was on leave and that he wouldn't face Richard and wrote back, saying, YOU see him and give him another op or ground him on the 19th, and Richard died on a training flight on the 7th? I should check the exact dates but it is just so dispiriting, I don't want to revisit it.

I didn't become entranced with Richard Hillary or Mary Booker but I think Faulks' was so dispiriting because so much of it was unnecessary. Richard was 'difficult'. Clearly, he was difficult to refuse. Everyone kept giving way to his unrealistic dream of returning to the dashing life he wanted. It is hard to tell if it was a sentimentality of some, to not tear his dreams apart - or that he was just such a pia to everyone, that they kept giving way, in the hope that the next person would be brutal enough to destroy the dream of war flying - and despite several people muttering that it wasn't just his life he would put at risk, everybody was giving way.

His last base was said to be infamous for poor maintenance and scrappy planes and staff that were lucky to rate as average and of course, bleak Scottish weather.

It sounded like a place to dump unwanteds. I have rarely read something so depressing about the war, outside The Holocaust. I've read of so many deaths, of wasted deaths, in WW2 but never such bleakness of spirit.

Particularly sad is the radar/nav chap, ex Cambridge, who was chosen for Richard because he was older, easygoing and willing to trust Richard, despite his physical problems with his all important hands. He had a family and a life that shouldn't have been put at that risk, and Faulks says HE wasn't great at navigating...

After reading these 2 books, that base name will now toll "potentially unwanted and second rate staff," every time I read it, which I find unsettlingly grim and sad.

I have to say that despite Mary and Richard being a hardback first with near perfect dustwrapper, I'm not going to keep it and Faulks' being paperback, is going, too.

I will keep Richard's own book, as it made a huge impression on the reading public of WW2 but I am now Hillaryed out.

My next book is WITNESS Voices from the Holocaust

Edited by Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar

Plus I have read 5 chapters of


an Oz POW of the Japanese.

I am wanting to read that quickly as I found that in an opshop and it is large print, so I don't want to keep it "on the shelves", as I have actually run out of shelves and it is actually sitting in a pile.

I am trying to only keep hardbacks, but then you have the Chorley Bibles etc so it's a losing battle from the start.

Goes without saying that I dip into them constantly.

Redigerat: okt 25, 2018, 2:50 pm

Today, I zipped through the first 35 pages of Day of Infamy, Walter Lord's very popular (at least in its day, which was the late 1950s) history of the Pearl Harbor attack. Lord is the author of the classic history of the Titanic, A Night to Remember. Lord tracked down dozens of participants/survivors of the battle from both sides and pieced together an impressive string of "you are there" memories and experiences. In that way, the book is similar to The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan's history of D-Day, which I read earlier this year.

ETA: I finished Day of Infamy in about four sittings. It seems to me to still be a very valuable document about the day and the attack. I'm probably the last one in this group to read it, though. :)

nov 16, 2018, 5:37 pm

I've started reading The Secret History of the War, Volume 1 by Waverly Root. The first two volumes of this book were published in 1945. It seems there was a third volume published a few years after the war was over. These first two volumes were published between V-E and V-J Day, as the opening sentences are:

"The World War which began in Manchuria in 1931 - two years before the fateful date when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany to stamp his name upon a new and dreadful epoch - has rolled full circle. Once more the battleground is in the Pacific."

Root worked in Paris as a correspondent for several publications, as well as for the Mutual Broadcasting Network, from 1927 through the outbreak of the war. Later he became quite well known as a food writer.

The work is quite voluminous, and I'll be working through the chapters gradually between my other reading over the next couple of years, most likely.

At any rate, I've read the first chapter, "The Origins of the War," and found it most interesting. In particular Root describes the weak and futile treachery of Chamberlain's abandonment of Czechoslovakia. Something I learned, although probably most of the folks reading this here already did know it, is that there was a three-way mutual defense treaty between the Czechs, the Russians and the French. As Munich approached, the Russians let the Czechs know they intended to honor the agreement if the Germans attacked them. The French, however, said, "No."

In fact, the Czechs evidently told the British and French that they would fight, anyway, and that "if a war begins you will be obliged to enter it whether you want to or not. We have decided to resist and thus force you to keep your engagement." The response was, "It is perhaps true that if you fight, we will be drawn in. But if we are drawn in, and if we are victorious, we will punish you for having forced our hand. There will be no Czechoslovakia after this war, whether we win or lose." (Emphasis Root's, whose footnote here states, "This account was given to me by one of Czechoslovakia's leading statesmen.")

So Czechs didn't fight. Later, the Russians were negotiating for a renewed treaty with France. They wanted the fighting to begin before the Germans reached the Russian border and so wanted the French to agree to consider an attack on the Baltic Countries an attack on Russia. The French wouldn't make that agreement, and the Russians came to feel (justifiably it seems) that the democracies were actually looking forward to seeing the Fascists and the Communists fight it out. Finally, Hitler came to Stalin and offered to simply divvy up the Baltics, giving Russia the buffer zone they wanted. Hence the German/Soviet Pact.

Root firmly believes that the Germans would have backed down, at least for the time being, had England and France stood up to them anywhere along the line up to the invasion of Poland. The German generals were fearful of what the consequences would be of going to war too soon, but Hitler was convinced the Allies wouldn't fight. He didn't even think the invasion of Poland would finally bring them in, evidently.

Anyway, that's what I learned in this book's first 15 pages. Volume 1 alone is 645 pages long. Does anyone else know of this book? It seems there are 10 or so LT members listing the book in their libraries.