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review 2020-01-22 20:18
The Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years War - Cicely Veronica Wedgwood

War is hell, just imagine it lasting for an entire generation with armies crisscrossing the same ground again and again producing famine, depopulation, and disease all in the name of religion, nationalism, and then finally simple greed.  C.V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War covers nearly a half century of history from the causes that led to the conflict through its deadly progression and finally it’s aftereffects.

 

From the outset Wedgwood sets the German domestic and the continental political situations in focus by stating that everyone was expecting war but between Spain and the Dutch while the German economy was on the decline due to the rise of new trading patterns over the course of the last century.  It was only with the succession of the Bohemian throne and the ultra-Catholic policies of the Ferdinand II after his election that started the war everyone knew was coming, sooner and further east than expected.  The war began as a purely religious conflict that saw the Catholic German princes led by Emperor Ferdinand crush the Protestant opposition because many of the Protestants decided not to help one another until it was too late due to political conservatism that Ferdinand used to his advantage.  It wasn’t until Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedes entered the conflict a decade later that the conflict turn slowly from religious to international and an extension of the Bourbon-Habsburg in which the former used first allies then their own troops to prevent the encirclement of France by both branches of the Habsburgs.  The negotiations for the end of the war took nearly five years and would change as events in the field would change strategies until finally allied members of the Bourbon and Habsburgs would cut deals with the other side to quickly break deadlocks and achieve peace but how it took almost six years to stand down the armies to prevent chaos.

 

Wedgwood’s narrative historical style keeps the book a very lively read and makes the war’s progress advancing even when she’s relating how the continuous fighting was affecting the German population.  She is very upfront with the men, and a few women, who influenced the conflict throughout it’s course from the great kings of Ferdinand II, Christian IV of Denmark, and Gustavus to the great princes Maximillian I of Bavaria, John George of Saxony, and Frederick Henry of Orange to the mercenary generals that gained in importance as the conflict continued like Albrecht von Wallenstein to finally the political masterminds of Richelieu and Mazarin.  With such a large historical cast, Wedgwood’s writing keeps things simple and straight for the read thus allowing the conflict’s long drawn out nature to fully impact the reader and how it affected those out of power.  And in describing the aftereffects, Wedgwood disarms many myths about the effects of the war that over three hundred years became considered fact.

 

The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood is an excellent narrative history of a conflict that saw the end of one kind of conflict and the beginnings of another with interesting personalities that fought and conducted policy around it while also showing the effects on the whole population.  If you’re interested in seventeenth-century history or military history, this book is for you.

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url 2019-11-08 15:10
Podcast #161 is up!
Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth - Iain MacGregor

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Iain MacGregor about his oral history of the Berlin Wall. Enjoy!

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text 2019-07-26 18:28
Madame Fourcade's Secret War:

 

 

Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Lynne Olson

Hardcover:464 pages

Publisher: Random House (March 5, 2019)

ISBN-10:0812994760

ISBN-13:978-0812994766

https://www.amazon.com/Madame-Fourcades-Secret-War-Frances/dp/0812994760

 

Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton

 

 

I picked up my copy of Madame Fourcade's Secret War at the same time I read Sarah Rose's D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II. After all, both books were published only a month apart, perfectly timed to reach readers interested in this summer's 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. I admit a unique motive. I wanted to troll for details I could use in a spy  story I'm working on set on a different planet dominated by women engaged in a brutal war.  

I easily got my money's worth from both titles. For readers with more normal inclinations, I can recommend Madame Fourcade's Secret War just as enthusiastically as I did D-Day Girls earlier this month.

While there's obvious overlap in context and setting, these two explorations of women spies travel very different roads. D-Day Girls focuses on female members of the S.O.E., the Special Operations Executive. Madame Fourcade didn't work for the S.O.E. but instead headed an independent network called "Alliance" that reported to England's MI6.  Sabotage wasn't Fourcade's main purpose, gathering intelligence was.

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was a complex woman battling her way through a man's world. She built up the Alliance network, especially clandestine radio operators and couriers, then rebuilt it again after the Gestapo gutted Alliance operations and rebuilt it again and again after dangerous duels with the Gestapo. Much of her time, Fourcade lived like a fugitive on the run using various aliases and disguises. Some of her most interesting adventures included harrowing escapes from German prisons.

Some readers are likely going to turn a sour eye on Fourcade due to her very non-maternal treatment of her children. At the onset of the war, she had two youngsters who she quickly had flee to Switzerland without her. During the war, she bore another baby she entrusted to caretakers and went years at a time without seeing any of them. According to Olson, Fourcade had little to say on this in her 1972 memoir,  Noah's Ark, but expressed grief for many of the agents she worked with or recruited who didn't survive the war. Her post-war children would later say their mother was never especially maternal. Instead, her Alliance members would be her family until her death in 1989.   

It's important to know the Allies learned about the V2 rocket due to the Alliance network and the Normandy invasion was greatly facilitated due to their intelligence. Alliance was the longest lasting and most successful resistance network in France even if Fourcade wasn't destined to earn all the credit she deserved, thanks largely to murky French politics and good ole sexism.

If you're interested in French-set World War II stories, spy stories, or women's studies, like D-Day Girls, this biography is well worth your time. It centers on the legacy of one woman but it also includes the tales of some of the more important Alliance leaders, the ways of espionage in the era, as well as painting what life was like in occupied France.  

 

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 25, 2019:

https://waa.ai/3uLD

 

My review of Sarah Rose's D-Day Girls was first published at BookPleasures.com on July 1, 2019:

https://waa.ai/XA7U

 

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review 2019-07-14 11:54
Anybody interested in post-WWII Germany and in Wolfe Frank should read this book.
The Undercover Nazi Hunter: Exposing Subterfuge and Unmasking Evil in Post-War Germany by Wolfe Frank. Ed by Paul Hooley - Wolfe Frank,Paul Hooley

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed the fascinating Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom: The Autobiography of the Chief Interpreter at History’s Greatest Trials by Wolfe Frank ( you can check my review here) and when I heard there was a second book about Frank, centred on a series of articles about post-war Germany he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, I had to read it as well. This book is also fascinating, but I missed more of Frank’s own voice, which made the previous book so distinctive and impossible to put down. On the other hand, I appreciated the work of the editor, who does a great job of providing background and trying to tie up loose ends.

The book includes several distinct parts. First, the preparation and background to the project. Although everybody seemed interested, getting everything in place in such a complex operation, as Frank was going undercover and there were many logistical complications to sort out — we must remember Germany was divided up into four zones under the control of different countries following the war. This part includes letters and documents of the time, and beyond its interest for Frank’s biography, it also provides a good insight into how newspapers and news organizations and syndication worked at the time. The editor also provides a good background into Frank’s personal history and his biography, which will be familiar to people who have read the previous book but means those who have not will easily get a sense of who Frank was and how he came about the project.

The second part is the articles as they were published at the time, The Hangover after Hitler series. Having read the previous book, it is clear that the articles were heavily edited, and Frank was writing under clear instructions. One cannot help but wonder what he would have written otherwise, but they are interesting as documents, not only of what was happening in Germany at the time, but also of what other countries wanted to know about Germany (mostly the USA), and how the different zones of post-WWII Germany were like. It sounds as if the different countries had completely different approaches to rebuilding and reorganising post-war Germany, and although we are all aware of what happened in the case of the Russian part, I had little idea of this in regard to the other regions before I read this book.

The third part is the confession of SS-Gruppenführer Waldermar Wappenhans, the SS General Frank discovered was still living in Germany after the war, in the British section of Germany, working for the British and living under a false identity. This is one of the most interesting sections of the book, and although the editor gives his own thoughts about it in the fourth part (and it makes perfect sense to think that Frank had a lot of influence in the way the “confession” was written), this man, who fought in both, WWI and WWII, and who in the confession comes across as somebody who never questioned his duty or what he had to do, and whose main interest was to go back to active duty (despite being repeatedly wounded) because that is what true men were supposed to do, provides an account of campaigns, weaponry, and also of agreements and disagreements between the different factions and actors that will delight anybody interested in the history of the period. He does not go into a lot of detail about his personal relationships or even his own reactions (although there are some light biographical moments, some that would horrify us [he casually recounts buying a young girl, with some other officers, in Haifa], some he seems to quickly skip by) and he depicts himself as somebody who speaks his mind no matter what, often resulting in his being moved and transferred to more risky posts. (I agree with the editor, who in part four writes that Wappenhans’s testimony “is more the autobiography of a brave warrior who unquestioningly obeyed the orders of superiors than the ‘confession’ of a Nazi wanted in connection with war crimes” (p. 282).

Part four, the aftermath, was the part I enjoyed the most. Here, the editor explains what happened and how the identity of Wappenhans came to be revealed (it seems Der Spiegel got hold of the information and revealed it on the same day Frank’s article came out, and there are clues as to where they might have got the information from), and also talks about some of the people involved and mentioned in the text and what happened to them. He also asks if Frank was working for British Intelligence, and makes a good case for it (it sure would explain a few things), and there is a final conundrum as well, as there were some drawings that might or might not have been by James Thurber that turned up in the file with the articles and documents. Personally, I like the drawings.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in post-WWII Germany, in finding more about Wolfe Frank (yes, we need a movie about him), interested in Wappenhans himself, and also in the workings of international newspapers in the late 1940s. I missed more of Frank’s own words, and if anybody reads this book first, I recommend you check Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom. It is a must read.

 

 

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review 2019-07-01 18:22
It's all about the D-Day Girls

 

 

D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

Sarah Rose

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Crown; 1st Edition (April 23, 2019)

ISBN-10: 045149508X

ISBN-13: 978-0451495082

https://www.amazon.com/D-Day-Girls-Resistance-Sabotaged-Helped/dp/045149508X

 

 

Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton

 

With D-Day Girls,  Sarah Rose has provided us with a valuable service not only in terms of setting the historical record straight for the women of the S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive), but for the history of the treatment of women in general even when they gave their countries the very finest in the way of self-sacrifice, courage, and heroism.

 

The stories of three women saboteurs , in particular, demonstrate just what skilled and brave women contributed during the occupation of France by the Nazis from 1939 to 1945.  We are told about scrappy Andrée Borrel, a demolitions expert  eluding the Gestapo while blowing up the infrastructure the occupying German army relied on. The "Queen" of the S.O.E. was Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent Parisian who lost everything due to her wartime service. And there was my favorite heroine of the bunch, Odette Sansom, who saw S.O.E. service as a means to lead a more meaningful life away from an unhappy marriage. While she finds love with a fellow agent named Peter Churchill, she ended up being a two year prisoner, horribly tortured by the Germans.   These women, along with their compatriots both male and female, helped lay the groundwork for D-Day by innumerable acts of sabotage, orchestrated prison breaks,  and the gathering of intelligence for the allied war effort.

 

But D-Day Girls  has a much deeper and wider canvas that three biographies. The stories of the three spies are painted against a detailed backdrop that includes the policy-making of the Allies leadership, how the chiefs of the S.O.E. came to involve women in their behind-the-lines operations, and how the changes in the war effort shaped what the various operatives were and were unable to accomplish. We learn about their training, the reactions of male superiors to the use of women at all, the bungles as well as the successes, the very human dramas the women became involved in,  the competition between the various intelligence agencies, how the spy networks were unraveled by the successful Nazi infiltration, and the very vivid settings from which the women operated. We learn about the costly mistakes some operatives performed, the lack of following the procedures they were taught, and the process of getting the materials and new agents parachuted in from RAF planes.

 

Rose is able to avoid a dry retelling of all these events with almost a novelist's descriptive eye. For example, she doesn't merely tell us about an explosion resulting from a well-place bomb--she gives us a sensory breakdown of what happened moment by moment, second by second in color, smell, and sound. She doesn't merely tell us about the black parachute drops,  but how they took place out in the quiet French countryside.

 

It's difficult to lay this book down as we revisit often forgotten corners of World War II history with often fresh perspectives. Many revelations are only possible now that many formerly classified documents have been brought to light and many misogynist points-of-view have been replaced by what actually happened.

 

In many ways, the tales of what happened to these women after the war ended are the saddest passages in the book. Because they were not part of any official military service, they were denied the full recognition and appreciation they deserved.  Even though they had been indispensable during the war, after VE day they were relegated to the second-class status of women everywhere. There's more than one lesson in all that.

 

 

So readers who love spy stories, those interested in World War II,  devotees of women's studies, and those focused on D-Day celebrations this year shouldn't be the only audience D-Day Girls should enjoy. It's a wonderfully vivid and descriptive multi-layered account that should engage any reader who likes well-written non-fiction.

 

 

Note: I'm aware that this year, a related book, Madame Foucade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Larges Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson was also published. It's on my summer reading list as well. Spy buffs, stay tuned--

 

 

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 1, 2019:

https://waa.ai/XA7U

 

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