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Search tags: its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know
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review 2018-07-21 18:13
A chummy history of how Churchill became Prime Minister
Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister - Nicholas Shakespeare

The selection of Winston Churchill as Neville Chamberlain's successor in May 1940 is regarded today as one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th century. With his elevation to the premiership Britain was committed to a course of action in the Second World War that ended with victory over Nazi Germany. Given his role in the Allied triumph and subsequent anointing as the greatest Briton ever, such a choice can be perceived as inevitable. Yet was it?

One of the great merits of Nicholas Shakespeare's account of the events surrounding the decision is in his detailing the views of the key actors in the spring of 1940 and the choices available to them. In the process, not only does he demonstrate that Churchill's selection was far from ordained, but he also shows that it was more than a simple choice between Churchill and Lord Halifax traditionally described in most accounts of the event. As Shakespeare explains, ministers and Members of Parliament had several alternatives available to them. For many of them, Churchill was an unacceptable choice for the top post given his recklessness and adventurism, while others seemed much more appealing candidates. Even the very notion that Chamberlain needed to be replaced because of the military debacle in Norway the month before was not generally accepted, and only emerged over the course of the "Norway debate" and the subsequent division that exposed the weakness of Chamberlain's support.

To detail the events of May 1940 and uncover the thinking of the various people involved Shakespeare went beyond the traditional accounts in memoirs and biographies and undertook additional archival research and interviews. This he knits together in a narrative to which he brings all his skills as a novelist, making for an account that is highly engaging. By comparing the at times conflicting accounts and retrospective explanations, he has produced a very detailed description of how it came down in the end to Churchill. Yet it is also an incredibly chummy account, focusing almost exclusively upon the actions and decisions of a select group of elite men (and even a couple of women). While this is understandable given the small circle of people in politics and media at the time, the weaknesses in this approach are more evident in the account of the Norway disaster that precedes it. Given its importance to the events that followed Shakespeare spends a third of the book describing its failings, yet his account of events rarely strays beyond the experiences of key officers and government officials, creating the impression that it was merely their personal experiences which drove their objections to Chamberlain rather than the broader defeat that informed their criticisms of his handling of the war.

 

By narrowing his focus to a group of elite figures (one that includes his own uncle), Shakespeare trivializes the motivations of many of the men involved in the decision to turn out Chamberlain. It's a glaring flaw in what is in many respects an excellent book, one that details the chain of events that would define the course of world history. It is especially unfortunate, given that Shakespeare's extensive research and ability as a writer have produced what is the best account yet of how Churchill became prime minister in those fateful weeks in the spring of 1940. Its weaknesses, however, cause it to fall short of the definitive account it could have been with just a broadening of its scope.

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review 2018-07-21 15:00
No bullshit romance
Silver Silence - Nalini Singh

Big thanks to Ceridwen and her guidance, because I really liked this one.

 

The world is rich but understandable enough, and the author does not go for info-dumping to ensure it. So, from my point of view, extra kudos for being self-contained.

 

I don't know how the romance works in other volumes, but there were a lot of positives for me in this one:

 

- There is a very alpha male. He's very protective, sure. But he's respectful. And he wants his mate to be his equal. Everyone equates capacity for being alpha with capacity for love.

 

- Consent is a huge thing in-world. At some point, the main male character says consent once does not imply consent again. Like wow, how come we don't see that often. So sexy.

 

- Main female character is BAMF. Actually, everyone is BAMF, even the grandmother. World of BAMF. But what I like is that it is in a quiet way. We don't see her engage in any huge display of power here, but it's always there, in the dialogue, her hyper-competence, the way she attends to her looks and literally calls it armor, the no-bullshit directness.

 

- Directly related to that one, the way the romance progresses in a no-bullshit way. Given the uber-praticality of anyone in Silence, and Valentin's commitment it makes sense. It translates into fast paced and big on communication. There are hurdles, but it's more an external, plot related thing. Little to do with hysterical angsty push and pull. Like I said, no bullshit. Such a relief.

 

I don't know that I will love all of the books in this series, but what I see I like, and will certainly read more Singh soon

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review 2018-07-18 18:44
Good, if somewhat dated, overview of America's war in the Pacific and Asia
Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan - Ronald H. Spector

In the 1960s Macmillan began publishing a series entitled "The Macmillan Wars of the United States." Written by some of the nation's leading military historians, its volumes offered surveys of the various conflicts America had fought over the centuries, the strategies employed, and the services which fought them. Ultimately fourteen volumes were published over two decades, with many of them still serving as excellent accounts of their respective subjects.

 

As the last book published in the series, Ronald Spector's contribution to it serves as a sort of capstone to its incomplete efforts. In it he provides an account of the battles and campaigns waged by the United States against Japan in the Second World War, from the prewar planning and the assumptions held in the approach to war to the deployment of the atomic bombs that ended it. In between the covers all of the major naval battles and island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, as well as America's military efforts in the China-Burma-India theater. He rounds out his coverage with chapters discussing both the social composition of the forces America deployed and the complex intelligence operations against the Japanese, ones that extended beyond the now-famous codebreaking efforts that proved so valuable.

 

Though dated in a few respects, overall Spector's book serves as a solid single-volume survey of the war waged by the United States against Japan. By covering the efforts against the Japanese in mainland Asia, he incorporates an important aspect of the war too often overlooked or glossed over in histories of America's military effort against the Japanese, one that often influenced developments elsewhere in the theater. Anyone seeking an introduction to America's war with Japan would be hard pressed to find a better book, which stands as a great example of what Macmillan set out to accomplish when they first embarked upon the series.

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review 2018-07-17 04:11
The Eye of the World, The Wheel of Time #1
The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1) - Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time has become one of my absolute favorite series. I read 'The Eye of the World' many, many times and spent countless hours dreaming about this world that Robert Jordan had created. As the series went on (and on) it suffered by comparison with other books, reading the last five or six books only once, but I've found myself coming back to it and falling in love all over again. This time around I'm following the reread by Leigh Butler and discovered a new blog on Tor.com where a reader is discovering the series for the first time. I've never had much luck convincing friends to read what I'm loving at the moment/forever, so its fun to read along and discover the fandom attached to this particular series.

The world is driven by magic, two complementary sources of the One Power divided between men and women. The man's half was Tainted thousands of years ago, cursing all men born to channel it to be driven mad and must be hunted down before they can cause another Breaking of the World. Women have power in 'The Wheel of Time', and there are no shortage of strong female characters, complex villains, and a lot of moral grey areas for a story about a conflict between the Light and the Dark. There is a legend that a hero will come, The Dragon, a reincarnation of a powerful male channeller who will save the world from the Dark One - but not without a terrible price.

Some time ago I parted with my crumbling mass-markets, so I'm taking advantage of my bookstore connections (I couldn't convince my friends to pick up a book, but I make a living that way now, ha) and am buying the trade paperbacks with the new cover art.

'The Eye of the World' has many deliberate parallels with 'The Lord of the Rings', and so starts out in the remote community of the Two Rivers. Summarizing of 'The Wheel of Time' is something best left to professionals, so I'll just touch on the very beginning:

Rand al'Thor doesn't have much more on his mind then meeting his friends for the festival of Bel Tine and figuring out his feelings for pretty Egwene al'Vere. He sees a frightening figure in black on the road to Emond's Field and his life is changed after that. There is a deadly attack on the village by monsters thought to be mythical, and they were looking for someone. Rand finds himself, along with his friends the mischievous Mat Cauthon, the steady and faithful Perrin Aybara convinced by Moiraine, an Aes Sedai (a powerful magic user) and her bodyguard, or Warder, Lan, to leave their home immediately in order to protect it and themselves. Egwene discovers their plan and insists on coming so she can see the world outside. A traveling storyteller, a gleeman named Thom, joins the party, too. They are not too far out of the village before they are tracked down, literally, by the young village Wisdom Nynaeve al'Meara. She has been a mentor to Egwene and a leader in the village and feels responsible for the young people being dragged out into the world for dubious reasons.

The series is known for its length, roughly 11,000 pages altogether, and it's detailed world-building, but there is a lot of action in these first books. The story is almost completely from Rand's perspective with only as-needed POVs from Perrin and Nynaeve. Later books featured dozens of POVs - there must be a count somewhere, I would be surprised if it was well over 100 - but 'The Eye of the World' was about Rand's journey into the outside and his first steps on the road to his destiny. He explores a cursed and ruined city, meets a beautiful princess named Elayne, travels incognito on the ship of a collector of antiquities, 'plays for his supper' in taverns on the run, is hunted by darkfriends (people sworn to the shadow), witnesses ancient magic, travels to the decaying Blight and witnesses monsters firsthand. Along the way he befriends an ogier named Loial. Ogier are ten feet tall, live for centuries, and revere the written word. Loial is impetuous and set out on his own to explore the world, but is often confused by how different the world is from the old books he's written. He's wonderful.

It is amazing to read these characters all over again and see how far they come. They are altered forever by this journey, and this first quest ends up being only the beginning of a long road. There are flaws and regrettable errors in this series, but they came from Robert Jordan wanting to create this diverse, inclusive, complicated world, and he was from a background where certain possibilities didn't occur to him. He gets a lot of respect from me. These books are such an achievement and opened so many doors for me as a reader. I'm thrilled that I'm loving this book just as much now, without reservation, as I did when I was 13.

The Wheel of Time:

Next: 'The Great Hunt'

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review 2018-07-15 17:45
The First World War from a different perspective
Pandora’s Box A History of the First World War - Jörn Leonhard,Patrick Camiller

For the English-language reader today there is no shortage of histories surveying the First World War. Thanks to the centenary, several new volumes have been added to the fine books written over the years, giving readers a choice of works ranging from those of contemporary authors such as Winston Churchill, C.R.M.F. Cruttwell, and Basil Liddell-Hart to more modern studies by historians such as John Keegan, Hew Strachan, David Stevenson, and G. J. Meyer. Yet even when these authors have pursued a balanced approach and incorporated available German-language sources into their account, they usually have an inherent British or Allied focus resulting from a combination of factors.

 

This is just one reason why Jörn Leonhard's book stands out as a history of the conflict. Originally published in German in 2014, its translation into English offers readers of the language a survey of the war from an historian coming from a perspective rooted in a different set of sources and influences than those of his British and American counterparts. Yet this is just one of the many distinguishing characteristics of his fine work, which offers what is easily the most comprehensive single-volume history of the war yet written. Within its pages he offers an account that begins with an examination of the factors that lead to the war and ends with its postwar legacy. Along the way he discusses the war in all of its myriad aspects, from the politics and economics of the conflict to its effects on society and culture. No front is left unexamined, and all of it is integrated into a narrative that moves with considerable fluidity from topic to topic.

The result is a work that is massive in scope yet one that offers an insightful account of the war that defined the 20th century. There is little that escapes his coverage, which is informed throughout by a perspective that will be fresh for many English-language readers of the war. It makes for a book that has set the new standard by which histories of the First World War are judged, and one likely to remain the standard for some time to come.

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