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review 2017-12-12 21:32
My eighty-first podcast is up!
Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic - David Head

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview David Head about his book on the Americans who engaged in legalized piracy during the Latin American wars of independence. Enjoy!

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review 2017-02-03 15:37
New warships for a new era
American Battleships, 1886-1923: Predreadnought Design and Construction - John C. Reilly Jr.

In the 1880s the United States Navy embarked upon a radical course, as decades of strategy were abandoned in favor of a new goal. Increasingly the traditional pursuit of a navy based on commerce raiding and defense was abandoned in favor of one that followed the European focus on a battle fleet designed to win and maintain control of the seas. At the heart of this was the battleship, which was undergoing a radical transformation of its own as new technologies outdated existing designs at an almost dizzying pace.


John Reilly and Robert Scheina's book charts the interaction and impact of these twin changes on the designs of battleships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Starting with the stand-alone classes of the Maine (which was classified as an armored cruiser) and Texas (the first true battleship), they describe the development of the various battleships built prior to the introduction of the revolutionary Dreadnought design that effectively rendered these ships obsolete -- in some cases even prior to their commissioning. In the process, they explain the evolution of design orthodoxy, the adaptations made with each successive class, and the elements in the ships that proved successful or were regarded as failures.


Carefully detailed and generously supplemented with a wealth of blueprints, schematics, and photographs, Reilly and Scheina's book is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the subject. It is a book that is rewarding reading not just for naval history buffs but for anyone interested in an important aspect of the evolution of America's role in the world, as the authors address not just the technical elements but the changing missions for the ships and the adaptations that those demands made upon their designs. For those who want to learn about how America began embracing its potential as a world power, this is a book that cannot be overlooked.

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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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review 2013-02-01 00:00
Simon Bolivar and Spanish American Independence 1783-1830
Simon Bolivar and Spanish American Indep... Simon Bolivar and Spanish American Independence 1783-1830 - John J. Johnson Short & sweet. Likely best for someone who has no exposure to the subject matter (i.e., like me).

First half is very broad strokes regarding the revolutionary context in Latin America, Bolivar as military officer, statesman, political theorist. The military history of the independence war is briefly presented, touching only the major initial reversals, then the five major battles that each appear to have liberated a state, thence descending into sectarian civil war after the Spanish Empire was ejected.

Second half is a collection of documents, including memoir excerpts, essays by Humboldt, and--the core of the book--Bolivar's four key statements: the Cartegena Manifesto of 1812, the Jamaica Letter of 1815, the Angostura Address of 1819, and the Bolivian Constitution of 1826.

1813 brought about guerra al muerte, a response to unrestricted imperial reprisals, in which pronouncement Bolivar spoke candidly: "Spaniards and Canary islanders, you will die, though you be neutral" (139). This position would eventually be loosened--but Bolivar in Jamaica estimates that the civil wars and liberation struggles up to 1815 cost Venezuela 25% of its population, and a total of one million persons died in all of New Spain, an eighth overall (154), in what he terms a "war of extermination" (158).

By the time we get to Angostura, he is proposing a new constitution, with a life president, and a tricameral legislature consisting of life senators, termed tribunes, and life censors. The terms are Roman and he's not kidding about that. The Bolivian constitution later makes this all manifest. The point is to have a popular, representative system with centralizing & permanant features.

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review 2008-12-05 00:00
Little Gold Star: A Spanish American Cinderella Tale - Robert D. San Souci I really enjoyed this Spanish-American Cinderella variant! I think the combination of story, text and illustrations were completely enchanting and so I am a little surprised at the lukewarm ratings here. I can only assume that it must have to do with the story’s decidedly wacky Hispanic Catholic slant which likely makes most people very uncomfy. But to each his own – I loved all the unexpected twists and turns this story took – bizarre miracles, comical curses, talking cats, and of course the baby Jesus! The more I think about it – the more I love it!
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