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Search tags: American-history
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review 2017-05-24 16:32
A good operational history, but misses the bigger picture
U.S. Armored Cruisers: A Design and Operational History - Ivan Musicant

Ivan Musicant's book provides a class-by-class description of the armored cruisers built by the United States Navy between the late 1880s (the beginning of what Musicant terms "the American naval renaissance") and the abandonment of the concept just two decades later. As Musicant explains at the end of his book, armored cruisers (which were defined by the preference for armored protection over speed in their design) were anachronistic and superseded quickly by the advances in naval warfare that spawned the first battlecruisers in 1908. For much of that period, armored cruisers were the most powerful oceangoing vessels in the U.S. fleet and key to ideas of American power projection as the United States began to exert its power on the national stage.

The problem with Musicant's book is that there is little effort to explain the doctrine behind the vessels, or how these ideas were reflected in the design and deployment of the ships. Instead Musicant offers readers a more conventional operational history of each vessel, one that describes their various deployments and modifications over their lifespan. In this respect his book contrasts poorly with John Reilly and Robert Scheina's American Battleships, 1886-1923: Predreadnought Design and Construction, which offers a far more comprehensive analysis of the contemporary development of a different class of warships. Thus, while Musicant's book remains a useful account of the history of these warships, it is far from the final word on their development at a pivotal time in American naval history.

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review 2017-05-23 15:41
My forty-seventh podcast is up!
The Civil War Diary of Rev. James Sheeran, C.Ss.R.: Confederate Chaplain and Redemptorist - Patrick J. Hayes

My latest podcast is up! In it I interview Patrick J. Hayes about his edited edition of the diaries of Patrick Sheehan, a Catholic priest who served as a chaplain for the Confederate army during the Civil War. Enjoy!

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review 2017-05-19 06:56
Bobby Kennedy's blossoming
The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest After JFK - John R. Bohrer

Until John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 Robert Kennedy's political career had been subsumed into that of his brother. As manager for John's 1952 Senate and 1960 presidential campaigns, Robert was the one who did the disagreeable work, serving as the bad cop so as to avoid accruing any personal enmity towards his older brother. As Attorney General Bobby played a similar role, and acted as Jack's closest adviser throughout all of the major crises of his presidency. Jack's assassination left his brother politically adrift, suddenly deprived of the focus that had defined his public career. How Robert Kennedy regained his political footing and emerged as a politician in his own right is the subject of John Bohrer's book, which details his career from the aftermath of his brother's murder to the delivery of his "Ripple of Hope" speech in South Africa in 1966.

 

The significance of these years, as Bohrer demonstrates, lay in Robert's emergence as a politician in his own right. This was a role almost thrust on him from the moment of his brother's death, as it made him the next in line for his family's political aspirations. Many people openly campaigned for Kennedy to be selected as Lyndon Johnson's running mate in the 1964 presidential election, but the personal animosity between the two men, coupled with Johnson's need to establish his victory as the result of his own appeal and not that of the Kennedy mystique, forced Robert to run instead for the Senate in New York, which he won by defeating the popular Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. Though possessing no seniority, Kennedy entered with an outsized stature, which he used to address he issues of poverty, civil rights, and America's growing involvement in the Vietnam War

 

Over the course of his book Bohrer develops a picture of a man who gradually found his voice as a politician in his own right. Though Kennedy's celebrity status undoubtedly played a role in this, Bohrer also credits the hard work both he and his aides put into making it possible. Though the author stops short of Kennedy's ill-fated 1968 presidential run, his book makes it clear how that trajectory towards the presidency was almost irresistible considering his status and the hopes so many invested in him. It makes for a book that offers a readably persuasive narrative explaining how Robert Kennedy emerged from his brother's shadow to become a national leader for his times.

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review 2017-05-11 22:35
Born to Run written and narrated by Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen

This is the best damn autobiography I've ever read or listened to, and I'm not even a Springsteen fan.

 

I am now, but not because of his music; it's because of his writing- his honesty, his humor, and his work ethic. His battles with depression and mental illness in his family must have been painful for him to admit, but it all rang true to me.

 

Don't get me wrong-I did have a few issues with him-most especially his reputation as a working man, or a rock and roller that represents the working man-and his not having worked a real job, (other than cutting lawns and carrying groceries to make the money for his second guitar), a day in his life! I guess I feel like he made up for that by doggedly pursuing his dreams and desires.

 

If you like Bruce Springsteen, or even if you don't, I highly recommend you read this book.

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review 2017-05-10 17:32
Paeans to my favorite books - VI: The Wars of Watergate
The Wars Of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon - Stanley I. Kutler

Donald Trump decision to fire James Comey has triggered a firestorm of controversy, one that will likely only grow in the days to come. As pundits and commentators are attempting to come to terms with it, many of them are reaching out to the only comparable example of presidential action under similar circumstances, the "Saturday Night Massacre" that provided one of the most dramatic moments of the Watergate crisis.

 

Hearing the analogies (valid or strained) makes me grateful for having read Stanley Kutler's book so many years ago. At the time I was preparing to teach U.S. history for the first time, and while I had a decent overall grasp of the subject I needed a better understanding of some of the knottier topics. Kutler's book gave me that understanding and more, as he unpacks the events of Watergate in a detailed account that provides clarity to the events he chronicles. He traces the genesis of the scandal that destroyed Nixon's presidency to his reaction to Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers. Determined to hunt down leakers yet frustrated by J. Edgar Hoover's foot-dragging response to his request for help (as Hoover hadn't survived four and a half decades as FBI director by going along with politically disastrous ideas), he had his staff create their own in-house team to stop leaks (hence their nickname "Plumbers"). Having such a tool at hand proved too much of a temptation, and they were soon employed in a number of "black bag" operations culminating in the effort to tap the phones of the head of teh Democratic National Committee.

 

The heart of Kutler's book, however, is in his explanation of the investigations that followed. This required him to chart the inquiries undertaken by all three branches of government, as well as the administration's response (both public and private) to them. Though Kutler gives short shrift to the famous labors of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, given his background as a constitutional historian his decision to focus on the legal and political dimensions is understandable enough, especially as it is these areas which ultimately were key to Nixon's downfall.  Reading it gave me a real appreciation for both the scope of the Nixon administration's faults and the principled, even heroic, efforts by many to uncover the truth and uphold the law. I can only hope that people that brave serve our country today.

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