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text 2018-08-17 17:04
Delving into labor history
John L. Lewis: A Biography - Melvyn Dubofsky,Warren Van Tine

Today a former classmate of mine messaged me to say that a professor we knew from graduate school had died last week. While I never really knew him (I doubt we exchanged more than greetings in all of my time there), he was a real institution, known for his work in business history, and I went to the department's website to read his bio before it was removed.


As I went over his CV, one of his books caught my attention. It was a biography he wrote decades ago on Samuel Gompers, the longtime leader of the American Federation of Labor. Seeing it there reminded me about one of my long-ago resolutions to read more labor history, something that I have neglected for far too long. There are many reasons for this, but the one that matters is that I find it a depressing subject: too much of it is about the thwarting of the efforts of ordinary people to earn a living wage for their daily drudgery. Yet with Labor Day approaching and my recently having gained greater flexibility in my reading choices, I decided that the time has come to start filling in the gap by reading a few biographies of labor leaders. I ordered a copy of Dubofsky's classic on John L. Lewis (which I passed up an opportunity to buy years ago and yes, I still remember that and I'm still annoyed with myself about it), and I may try to squeeze in one or two more while the opportunity lasts.


And one of those that I'm going to squeeze in is that Gompers biography. I feel like I owe it to that old curmudgeon.

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text 2018-06-12 15:43
The latest reading choice I'm facing
Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888 - John C. G. Röhl

In a few weeks I'm traveling to my in-laws's farm for my summer vacation. I'm looking forward to it for many reasons, not the least of which is the uninterrupted hours of reading time I have while I'm there (my in-laws are generous in that way and many others). This, of course, then raises the question inevitable question of what to bring to read.


This time I'm not approaching it as a question of limited availability once I'm there; I have some books there left over from my last trip there, and I'll probably bring a paperback or two from my Star Trek novel stack. This time it's more an issue of what to prioritize among my current interests. Among them is the first volume of John Röhl's biography of Wilhelm II, which I started reading three years ago and DNF'd a fifth of the way in. t was a fine read, but its size limited my ability to take it with me to read while I was out-and-about and other priorities intruded. Miranda Carter's recent New Yorker piece about Wilhelm has definitely increased my interest, though, and with my desire to read more modern European history for the fall semester this seems like a prime opportunity to make this my main selection.


Unfortunately my interests as always spin in multiple directions at one. I also have a biography of Georges Clemenceau that has long gathered dust on my shelf, and which has the added virtue of greater portability, as well as one of Raymond Poincaré right next to it which might be an even more important read. David Weber's book on Spain's empire in North America is also looming large given my upcoming Southwestern history class, and there are also a couple of other titles on German history which seem appealing. Fortunately I still have some time to work all this out, but I'm hoping to do so before it becomes one of those last-minute panic issues.


So, which book would you be most interested in seeing reviewed?

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text 2018-05-14 00:17
I have my first Star Trek novels!

So, for my plan to read the Pocket Book series of Star Trek novels I went out to the local used bookstore and came back with these finds.



To be honest, I was just a little disappointed with the selection, as I thought they would have more of the older ones available than they did. Still, I took most of the ones they had and walked out the store happy.


I've already picked one -- Greg Bear's Corona -- and started on it. So far it's validating my decision in ever respect, being both an entertaining read and one unburdened by the need to be faithful to the collective mass of the Star Trek universe, At this clip, I should be done with this bunch in a couple of weeks, buy which time I'll probably have a few more to get through. I may even save a couple and box them up for future rereading, as they are definitely proving to be fun.

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text 2018-05-08 16:41
I really need to learn to read German
Metternich: Stratege und Visionär - Wolfram Siemann

Last week I decided to make brushing up modern European history a goal for myself this summer, and so far I'm enjoying it immensely. I've already completed two books, two more underway, and I'm making preparations to read at least a half-dozen others. What's been unexpected is the degree to which I find my interests focusing on modern Germany, though this is probably because of its centrality to the era.


I was investigating a possible addition to my TBR stack, though, when I discovered that new biographies of Maria Theresa and Klemens von Metternich were published recently. I have been wanting to read biographies of both figures, and these two books (both of which were written by top-flight historians) are garnering considerable praise.


The only problem is, they're both in German.


Now, according to the German department at the cow college where I matriculated for graduate school I'm able to read the language. What I'm officially qualified to do, though, is different from what I can actually do. Now I could get one or both of these books and plow through them with the help of a German-English dictionary, but if this sounds familiar to you, it's because I'm already planning to do the very same thing to learn how to read Spanish, and while I like a good reading challenge, undertaking two at the same time seems a bit much. Or am I wrong here? Because I would love to be wrong about this.

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text 2018-05-02 03:14
It's almost summer reading time (again)!

The mercury has been flirting with the triple digits, which means that summer is almost upon us out here. Yesterday I went to my local independent bookseller and picked up for my son the materials detailing this year's summer reading challenge, so now that that's out of the way, I can focus on what I'm going to read!


Last year, I set some pretty ambitious goals for myself, none of which I made. This year I'm scaling back my ambitions somewhat, though I'm also scaling back my podcast reading so that I'll have the time for what I do decide to read. Here's what I have in mind for now:


Modern European history - This fall I'm scheduled to teach our modern European (post-1789) history survey. It's one of my favorite classes, yet one that I haven't taught in a while and frankly my lectures need a little updating. I'm probably going to start with Richard Evans's volume in the Penguin History of Europe series, target a couple of books on my TBR list, and take care of others on my shelf that have been on there for far took long. The holy grail in this respect is Peter Gay's five-volume history of the 19th century European middle class, but this is where that pledge to scale back my ambitions probably needs to kick in, so I might have to settle for Klaus Theweleit's books on the fantasies of Freikorps members, which has considerable relevance to the world in which we're living today.

The Chaco War - This is a follow-up to my recent read on the Paraguayan War, as I decided to read up on the major South American war of the 20th century. There are two books on the conflict in English, both of which look to be fairly easy reads.

Hornblower! - So far I've read four of the eleven books; reading the others sounds like a nice way to pass some of the hours while staying out of the heat.

All of this will be in addition to whatever I'm sent to review and cover in a podcast, but I think this summer will see me achieving more of my reading goals than the last one.

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