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review 2018-09-23 18:39
The best explanation of the hows and whys of the air war over North Vietnam
Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, 1965-1972 - Marshall L. Michel III

During the eight years of its engagement in the Vietnam War, the airpower of the United States was involved in a bifurcated conflict. In the south American warplanes enjoyed an uncontested dominance of the skies, which they used to deploy American resources and surveil and attack the enemy. Air Force and Navy planes entering North Vietnam airspace, however, found themselves in a much different situation, as they faced an air defense network that grew increasingly sophisticated as the war went on. In his book Marshall Michel analyzes the air war fought over the skies of North Vietnam, detailing its twists and turns as both sides sought an advantage in a key front in the conflict.

 

As Michel notes, given the tactics and technology employed, the air war in North Vietnam "was the one area of the Vietnam War that has military significance in the global balance of power." There both sides deployed planes and weapons designed for a potential war in Europe between the Soviet Union and NATO. For the United States Air Force, this meant using F-105 fighter-bombers designed to strike their enemies quickly, relying upon speed for protection. Armed with heart-seeking and radar-guided missiles, they were designed without cannons in the belief that, in the new age of missiles, dogfighting was obsolete. This was soon proved mistaken, as the smaller and more agile MiG-17s posed a challenge for which the F-105s were poorly equipped. Armed with cannons as well as missiles the Navy's F-8s proved much more capable of meeting the threat, though their pilots were also frustrated by technical problems with the missiles and rules requiring visual confirmation before attacking, which often inhibited the ability to launch their weapons.

 

As the war went on, all sides adapted in response to what they learned. For the North Vietnamese, this involved developing an elaborate ground control interception (GCI) system that employed both North Vietnamese fighters and growing numbers of anti-air cannons and missiles. While both the Air Force and the Navy sought improved weapons and supporting technology, the Air Force's exclusive reliance on technical fixes contrasted with the Navy, which in 1968 established the Topgun School in an effort to improve dogfighting abilities. New aircraft were also introduced — the F-4 for the U.S., the MiG-21 for the North Vietnamese — which also represented an escalation in ability prior to the termination of the North Vietnamese bombing campaign by President Lyndon Johnson in March 1968.

 

When Johnson's successor Richard Nixon resumed the bombing in North Vietnam in 1972, the new lessons were employed in full. The Air Force found themselves launching ever-larger missions to bomb tough North Vietnamese targets, while North Vietnamese pilots adopted new tactics to contest control of the air. By now the superiority of the Navy's approach was becoming more indisputable, reflected as it was in the superior kill ratios of North Vietnamese places to their Air Force counterparts. As a result, once the war ended in 1973 the Air Force moved to establish their own Weapons School to teach the hard-won lessons of the now-concluded conflict and employ them to secure American air superiority in future wars.

 

As a former F-4 pilot who flew in Vietnam, Michel brings a firsthand familiarity to his subject. This he uses to interpret the mass of staff reports, expert assessments, and personal narratives that he draws upon to detail the various airborne engagements that defined the war. This he does dispassionately, favoring analysis over dramatic narrative, yet his book engages the reader with its clearheaded insights and perceptive conclusions. While it suffers from the lopsided nature of his coverage favoring the Americans (understandable, given the relative inaccessibility of North Vietnamese records), this is nonetheless the best history of its subject, one that explains the hows and whys of the air war in North Vietnam better than every other book out there.

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review 2018-09-22 15:12
Deservedly regarded as a classic
The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 - Michael Eliot Howard

Michael Howard's history of the Franco-Prussian War has long been regarded as a classic of military history, and after reading it it's easy to see why. His book is a incisive recounting of the combatants and the operations they undertook over the course of the ten-month-long conflict. In the process he identifies the elements that defined the conflict, showing how just ill-prepared the French were for the war they faced, how poorly suited the French generals were for the type of war they were in, and how precarious Prussia's victory was after their ostensibly decisive victory in the battle of Sedan. While Geoffrey Wawro's history of the war serves as a better introduction to the subject thanks to its broader coverage of the context of events, nobody interested in understanding the course of the fighting can afford to skip Howard's perceptive and enduring examination of it.

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review 2018-09-22 00:17
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to The All Souls Trilogy
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life - Claire Baldwin,Colleen Madden,Deborah Harkness,Lisa Halttunen,Jill Hough

There are some here who know I'm an unapologetic fan of this series, but fan or not, I'm generally not the type to buy the "guides" the more popular series put out because in all truth, they feel like something that's been thrown together to squeeze just that much more money out of everyone; especially completists.  

 

But the cover of this one sucked me in at the Barnes and Noble and BN was the first bookshop stop on my Holiday of Book Buying Madness, so I caved.  

 

Yay to caving!  It ended up being really interesting, as evidenced by the fact that it took me three weeks to read the damn thing.  Harkness et al manage to weave an awful lot of historical facts into a book about books that are about vampires, witches and demons.  This is the place where Harkness gets to share all her historical knowledge, research and education that went into giving Matthew and Diana's adventures verisimilitude, as well as brilliantly weaving the lives of the vampires (and Diana to a lesser extent) into history.

 

She's really clever about this too; using real documents that have gone missing, or paintings done during the correct period that are of unknown subjects or known to have been destroyed over time, she's able to plausibly weave fact and fiction together without an abundance of anachronisms.  Little asides throughout the book in her own voice shares with the reader her inspirations for locations, homes, castles, even tea shops.

 

I had no problem seeing the delineation between the factual and the fictional, but in the section where the characters are outlined, a symbol is next to each name that does exist in the historical records, a touch I appreciated since Elizabethan history is something I'm hazy about, at best.

 

There are beautiful illustrations throughout, a couple of out-takes from two of the books, and a few full color illustrations from - I think - alchemical texts.  This was, in fact, my only complaint about the book - the full color inserts were not captioned - an odd oversight where everything else is clearly foot-noted and cited or explained within the narrative.  At one point Harkness' own historical research was used as a citation, leading me to believe the authors' were determined to be as clear and accurate as possible.  Perhaps this means the color inserts were the work of the illustrator for the book, and not historical, but it would be nice to know either way.

 

A fun and very informative read for those that enjoyed the trilogy; not sure how well it would work for those that didn't read it as it might be annoying to have fictional characters you know nothing about, or care nothing for, interwoven through all the historical goodies.

 

I read this for the New Release square of Halloween Bingo 2018.

 

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text 2018-09-21 17:16
A Natural History of the Senses By Diane Ackerman $1.99
A Natural History of the Senses - Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman's lusciously written grand tour of the realm of the senses includes conversations with an iceberg in Antarctica and a professional nose in New York, along with dissertations on kisses and tattoos, sadistic cuisine and the music played by the planet Eart

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review 2018-09-20 16:59
Peter O'Toole: the Definitive Biography (Sellers)
Peter O'Toole : the definitive biography - Robert Sellers

Is this really "the definitive biography"? It's certainly the best in a very disappointing field since O'Toole's death. Notably absent amongst the people interviewed as original sources: any of O'Toole's surviving family, including ex-wife Sian Phillilps (mother of his two daughters) or ex-partner Karen Brown (mother of his late-life son). So this is definitely not the "authorized" biography, which can be a good or a bad thing. In this case, I think it has been detrimental to any real understanding of O'Toole's family life (Sian Phillips' autobiography is a useful corrective for the years when they were married).

 

I was dubious when I saw Robert Sellers to be the author, because he has also written books with such unpromising titles as "Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed" and "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down: How One Generation of British Actors Changed the World". In other words, he gives every appearance of being one of those bloke-ish biographers who delight in chronicling promiscuity and drunkenness, as if they were something necessarily associated with great talent and in some way admirable. Mind you, to be fair, if you're going to write about Peter O'Toole, you're going to have to address both of those major factors in his life and career. But I was pleasantly surprised at the relative absence of celebratory adjectives about the alcoholism that most certainly contributed to O'Toole's dreadful health in the second part of the career (not to mention his very poor reputation amongst landlords and other property owners).

 

The sources for this book are chiefly gossipy minor players in the entertainment world, most of whom doubtless have dined out on their O'Toole stories for some time, so we must take into account the natural human tendencies to embellish and generalize. The other people involved in the best anecdotes are by and large gone from us, and can't issue any refutations (if indeed they would wish to). But in addition to O'Toole's mischief, drinking, and occasional completely thoughtless cruelty, I found that there was also a ring of truth - through repetition from different sources - in the accounts of his deep thoughtfulness about his craft, his extensive and intelligent reading, and a generosity that could be as extravagant as his narcissism. As I think I remarked in my review of "Hellraisers", O'Toole still comes off, like Burton, as someone you could see wanting to associate with, as opposed to some of the nastier drunks in his circle of contemporaries. (And lest anyone wonder, it does seem that he dabbled in drugs as well.)

 

Sellers puts to rest the old controversy of where O'Toole was born, Ireland or England, by digging up the actual birth certificate from Leeds. But he does also acknowledge throughout that O'Toole became Irish, almost by dint of wishing so very much to be Irish (he always claimed himself that he did not actually know one way or the other).

The book has a decent apparatus (index, bibliography, list of film and theatre credits), and there are citations at the end for most paragraphs, though since most of said citations are to "author's interview with X", there's really not much verification that can be done. Sellers also took the time to view the historical record in the form of TV talk show utterances (now much more available to us through youtube), and he relies relatively little on previous biographical work as far as I can see, although Sian Phillips is of course fairly heavily cited.

 

"Better than expected" doesn't seem like particularly high praise, but in fact I'm quite pleased to give this book a place on my shelves. Since O'Toole will unfortunately never continue his slim, whimsical, fascinating autobiographical efforts into the most riveting years of his career, we must rely on the more prosaic expressions (and perhaps more reliable memories?) of the people around him who may not have been his nearest and dearest, but for that very reason may have been reliable observers.

 

Recommended to fans of O'Toole and people who enjoy anecdotal biography about London and Hollywood in the mid to late 20th century.

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