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review 2017-03-14 21:56
Scars of the Independence
Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth - Holger Hoock

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.


The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced.  In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.


Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family.  The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict.  Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners.  While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war.  But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.


One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth.  Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars.  Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.


Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history.  Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

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text 2017-01-10 11:07
Paeans to my Favorite Books -- IV: Harold Nicolson's Diaries and Letters
Diaries and Letters, Vol. 2: The War Years, 1939-1945 - Nigel Nicolson,Harold Nicolson

One of the more frivolous parts of my library is my collection of British political diaries and letters. When I term it "frivolous," I don't mean in terms of its subject matter (though I'm sure that some will regard it as such for that reason) but in its readability. I began collecting such works when I had aspirations towards academic writing (aspirations that I would still like to fulfill someday), as the personal writings of such figures always are a useful resource. Yet such works don't always make for pleasure reading, even when I have an interest in the subject.


One of the great exception to this is the diaries of Harold Nicolson. Nicolson was a former diplomat and author who in 1930 began keeping a diary of his literary and political activities. Aspiring to a political career, he ran for Parliament and was lucky enough to get in by the skin of his teeth in the general election of 1935. Unbeknownst to him or anyone else, this would give him a front-row seat to some of the momentous events in modern history, namely the events leading up to the Second World War and Britain's struggle for survival during it.


In the 1960s Nicolson's son Nigel edited the diaries for publication, leavening them with a selection of his correspondence from the period. I picked up a copy of the diaries years ago, yet it wasn't until relatively recently that I sat down to read them. What I found was a marvelous personal account of the 1930s and 1940s from a perceptive and well-connected observer of events. The second volume, which covers the war years, is by far the most interesting, as not only did Nicolson witness firsthand Winston Churchill's waging of the war from the dispatch box, but his recollection of events offers a contemporary window into the war as it was lived. Reactions to major events are interwoven with references to personal struggles and anecdotes of the political and literary figures with whom Nicolson spent his time. Yet the greatest value of the diaries is their readability; Nicolson had a sense for the perceptive anecdote, and his personal observations of the people he witnessed gives them a life that is lacking from most biographical accounts. Not only did I find reading them enormously enjoyable, but i find myself returning to them as a great account of how one person experienced some of the most trying times in human history. It is truly an amazing document of a man and his times.

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review 2016-12-18 16:33
Podcast #28 is up!
What Did You Do During the War?: The Last Throes of the British Pro-Nazi Right, 1940-45 - Richard Griffiths

My twenty-eighth podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Richard Griffiths about his study of the British pro-Nazi right during the Second World War. Enjoy!

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review 2016-12-08 04:09
Making friends with Hitler
Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-39 - Richard Griffiths

The rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933 was greeted in Britain by a range of opinions that might be difficult to imagine today. While many viewed Adolf Hitler's rise with concern and even trepidation, others greeted it with enthusiasm and became supporters of his regime. Richard Griffiths book provides readers with a study of this latter group, one that looks at their motivations, activities, and goals in supporting the Nazi regime in the years leading up to the outbreak of war in 1939.


Part of the challenge that Griffiths faces in this respect is assessing the disparate motives of people with a common agenda. He finds among them a shared admiration for Hitler, coupled with a fear for Communist expansion in Europe and a desire to see Germany developed as a bastion against it. These efforts were encouraged by the Nazis, who provided support for their activities. Though advocacy for the Third Reich during this period stretched across the social spectrum, Griffiths concentrates his study on the leaders of the groups, which included men from politics, the military and members of the aristocracy. This support grew as the decade wore on, and declined only when Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 dispelled any illusions about Hitler's intentions, leaving behind only a fanatical core that was interned after the war broke out a few months later.

Griffiths's book is a welcome examination of a group of people too often on the fringes of most historical accounts. His dispassionate and respectful assessment of their views and actions helps readers better understand why they adopted the positions they did and why they maintained them even after Hitler's ambitions and the Nazis's anti-Semitic brutality became increasingly evident. Anyone seeking to understand better why so many people came to support such a regime would do well to turn to this work, which answers these questions and more with a combination of both clarity and insight.


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review 2016-11-19 23:26
The True Flag
The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire - Stephen Kinzer

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.


The internal debate within the United States about how the country should act around the world, to either avoid or intervene in foreign entanglements, has been going on for over a century.  However, neither the arguments nor the situations that bring them on have changed over that time.  Stephen Kinzer in his book The True Flag looks at when this debate began back at the turn of the 20th Century when the United States looked beyond the Americas in the “Age of Imperialism”.


The political and military history before, during, and after the Spanish-American War both inside and outside the United States was Kinzer’s focus throughout the book.  Within this framework, Kinzer introduced organizations and individuals that opposed the actions and outcomes promoted by those more familiar to history, namely Theodore Roosevelt, as the United States was transformed into a “colonial” power.  Yet, while this book is about the beginning of a century long debate it is more the story of those who through 1898 and 1901 argued against and tried to prevent the decisions and actions that today we read as history.


Although the names of Roosevelt and Mark Twain catch the eye on the cover, in reality Kinzer’s focus was on other important figures on either side of the debate.  The biggest promoter of “expansionist” policy was Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s long-time friend, who gladly let his friend become figure that history would remember.  However, Lodge’s fellow senator from Massachusetts, George Frisbie Hoar was one of the fiercest opponents and critics of the “expansionist” policy that Lodge and Roosevelt promoted.  One of the enigmatic figures of the time was newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who openly advocated and supported war in Cuba but then turned against the expansion when the United States fought the insurrection in the Philippines.  Businessman Andrew Carnegie was one of many prominent individuals who founded the American Anti-Imperialist League to work against the United States ruling foreign territory.  Amongst those working with Carnegie were former President Grover Cleveland and imminent labor leader, Samuel Gompers, but the strangest bedfellow was William Jennings Bryan.  In Bryan, many believed they had the person in the political sphere that could stem the tide against the “expansionist” agenda but were twice stunned by the decisions he made when it was time to make a stand.


Kinzer throughout the book would follow the exploits and opinions of both Roosevelt and Twain during the period covered, however there was is a stark difference amount of coverage each has in which Roosevelt is in the clear majority.  It wasn’t that Kinzer chose not to invest page space to Twain, it was that he did not have the material to do so.  Throughout most of the period covered, 1898-1901, Twain was in Europe and out of the social and political landscape of the United States.  However, once Twain stepped back onto U.S. soil his pen became a weapon in the cause against imperialism that Kinzer documents very well.  Unfortunately for both the reader and Kinzer, Twain only becomes prominent in the last third of the book whereas Roosevelt’s presence is throughout.  This imbalance of page space between the books’ two important figures was created because of marketing, but do not let it create a false impression of favoritism by Kinzer on one side or another.


History records that those opposed to the United States’ overseas expansion lost, however ever since the arguments they used have been a part of the foreign policy debate that has influenced history ever since.  The True Flag gives the reader a look into events and arguments that have shaped the debate around the question “How should the United States act in the world?” since it began almost 120 years ago.  This book is a fantastic general history of an era and political atmosphere that impacts us still today, and is a quick easy read for those interested in the topic.

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