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markk

markk

Currently reading

The Blue Hammer
Ross Macdonald
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life
Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reading progress update: I've read 137 out of 904 pages.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States) - James M. McPherson

I'm rereading McPherson's classic with a friend, and I came across this passage in his examination of the relationship between Republicans and the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings:

On the other hand, many antislavery leaders recognized the incongruity of nativism with their own ideology. "I do not perceive," wrote Abraham Lincoln, "how any one professing to be sensitive to the wrongs of the negroes, can join in a league to degrade a class of white men." William H. Seward had battled nativists in his state for more than a decade. . . An "anti-slavery man," said George W. Julian, founder of the Republican Party in Indiana, "is, of necessity, the enemy of [this] organized scheme of bigotry and proscription, which can only be remembered as the crowning and indelible shame of our politics."

Imagine what they would say about their own party today!

It's that time of year . . .

Last night I opened my Goodreads app and was greeted with the announcement that voting has begun on the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards. My first thought was, "Wow, is the year almost over?" My second thought was, "Ugh, not this crap again."

When Goodreads announced their Readers Choice Awards last year, the inanity of their selections (which I wouldn't be surprised in the last if they have to do more with publisher payola than any merits of quality) led me to make an open offer to vote for any books you requested in categories in which I hadn't already cast a vote. Well, I'm renewing the offer this year: while I already cast votes in the History & Biography (which again contained almost none of the truly excellent books that were published in those fields this year), Nonfiction, and their new "Best of the Best" categories, I'm happy to vote for whichever vote you want to see advance to the next round. It's on a first-come, first-serve basis, so if there's a choice you're really passionate about post it in the comments thread ASAP!

The emergence of presidential campaigning

The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson - Mark R. Cheathem

The presidential election of 1840 in America was a notable one for a number of reasons. Not the least of these was its result, as it was the first election in which the nominee of the Whig Party, William Henry Harrison, triumphed by defeating his Democratic opponent, incumbent president Martin Van Buren. Though this was the product of a variety of factors, foremost among them was the Whig's perfection of electioneering techniques that had emerged over the previous sixteen years, the employment of which served in many ways as a model for presidential campaigns down to the present day. In this book Mark Cheathem describes the evolution of presidential campaigning during the antebellum era, showing how these techniques emerged and how they framed the contests for the growing number of Americans voting in national elections.

 

As Cheathem explains, the development of presidential campaigning was a relatively recent phenomenon. With George Washington as a consensus choice, the nascent political parties did not even confront the problem of electing candidates until the third election in 1796. Even then, elections took place in a very different context, with the electoral college delegates chosen by their state's legislatures rather than in a popular vote. This changed in the 1820s as popular democracy was expanded, a development intertwined with the emergence of the "second party system" in the aftermath of the presidential election of 1824.

 

With the new parties now needing to appeal to this growing pool of voters they began to develop a range of electioneering devices. Here Cheathem details the emergence of a variety of tools in print, music, and visual culture that sought to promote a chosen candidate and undermine their opponent. As the dominant mass media of their time newspapers were at the forefront of this, often serving as the most direct means for candidates to reach out to their supporters across long distances. But the songs and displays at rallies also emerged as important implements for campaigns to rally voters to support their man. Cheathem also details the growing role women played in this process, as the contemporary views about their role as moral guardians proved a valuable asset in political campaigns.

 

Cheathem describes this in a brisk narrative that demonstrates a command of both the campaign material of the era and the secondary source literature on his subject. By weaving into this a succinct narrative of the presidential politics of the time, he provide a useful background to the issues touched upon in the campaign materials he describes. All of this is presented in a fluid text that provides its readers with a clear presentation of the era and makes a convincing argument about the development of presidential campaigning in the era. The result is a book that everybody interested in American politics should read, both for the understanding it provides in the development of modern electioneering, both for better and for worse.

The Doctor and Peri in steampunk Rome

State of Change (Doctor Who: The Missing Adventures) - Christopher Bulis

After taking Peri to snap photographs of Cleopatra's barge as it sails down the Nile, the Doctor and his companion set course for their next destination: Rome in the 2nd century AD. Upon landing, however, they find that they've journeyed forward only a few decades and that they have arrived in a Rome with electric lighting and dirigibles floating in the sky. With the Doctor's TARDIS inexplicably cut off from the Eye of Harmony the two scramble to restore the ship's power and unravel the mystery the steam-powered Rome one which will lead them to one of the Doctor's most dangerous enemies.

 

With over a dozen novels to his credit, Christopher Bulis ranks as among the most prolific contributors to the various series of Doctor Who novels in the 1990s and 2000s. Reading this book, it's easy to see why. His novel is a brisk work that nicely conveys the larger world in which Bulis sets it. Best of all is his portrayal of the sixth Doctor, which conveys all of the best parts of the character without any of the flaws which made his tenure on the show so controversial. While the plot itself has plenty of formulaic elements, the novel itself is an enjoyable read that will provide many fans of the franchise with a pleasant way to pass the time.

Reading progress update: I've read 281 out of 352 pages.

Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny  - Edward J. Watts

This was an interesting book one with a very relevant message:

When citizens take the health and durability of their republic for granted, that republic is at risk.

The imperial German way of war

Imperial Germany and War, 1871-1918 - Richard L. DiNardo, Daniel J. Hughes

Though Daniel Hughes and Richard DiNardo call their book an "institutional history" of the imperial German army, a more precise description of it would be an examination of the imperial German way of war. In it they detail the evolution of the army's doctrine and strategic planning, from the post-Napoleonic ideas of Carl von Clausewitz and their application by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder to the subjection of their preparations to the test of war in 1914. As they explain, the experience of combat on the Western Front forced the army to abandon their emphasis on mobile warfare and the battle of annihilation in favor of a less costly employment of positional warfare while trying to defeat the Russians in the East. While the army attempted to switch back to mobile warfare in 1918, the units in the west (most now manned primarily by wartime inductees) had to relearn the prewar concepts, only now mobile warfare was reapplied without a clear strategic goal to pursue.

 

While this focus dominates Hughes and DiNardo's book, readers will find much besides this within its pages. Rooted in a vast range of sources in both German and English, its descriptions of the various branches of the German army, its analysis of the army's place within the German constitutional structure, and its assessment of its institutional deficiencies provides readers with an in-depth examination of a feared fighting force. Though missing any description of the combat experience of the soldiers themselves, this is nonetheless the most comprehensive single-volume study of the imperial German army available in English, one that is both a valuable starting point for the novice and a useful reference work for those more knowledgeable about the subject.

Reading progress update: I've read 97 out of 352 pages.

Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny  - Edward J. Watts

This is proving an even timelier read than I would like given today's news about the pipe bomb packages, but I do think that Watts efforts to establish parallels between late republican Rome and modern America are a little too strained.

Podcast #121 is up!

I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche - Sue Prideaux

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Sue Prideaux about her new biography of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Enjoy!

The shadow over Guangzhou

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Tiger - David A. McIntee

When the TARDIS materializes in China in 1865, the Doctor and his companions arrive in a China plagued by foreign occupation and a shadowy threat. Mistaken for the commander of the local garrison of British troops, Ian is attacked by the patrons of a local restaurant. As he recovers from his injuries, the Doctor, Barbara, and Vicki discover that an unknown group has infiltrated the Black Flag militia and is using the organization to their own mysterious ends. With their forces seizing various locations and their men ordered to kill scholars and teachers, the Doctor begins to suspect that the threat before him may not be of this world and is one that knows more about him than he does about it.

 

David McIntee's book is an interesting entry in the Past Doctor Adventures series. Focused on the First Doctor and one of his teams of companions, it evokes nicely the sort of slow-developing (for better and for worse) history-centric adventure that was common to the series at that time. McIntee's characterization of the crew is particularly strong, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the locals the encounter are featured more prominently in the narrative. What makes the book stand out, though, is McIntee's subtle employment of an antagonist from later in the televised series, one whom a subsequent regeneration of the Doctor defeated hundreds of years prior to the events in his book. It's a neat twist, and one that manages to avoid any of the logic-twisting issues that so often come up in time travel stories premised on such a scenario. The book cemented for me McIntee's status as my favorite author of Doctor Who novels, and I plan on reading all of his other contributions to the franchise as soon as I can get my hands on them.

Ugh, my headspace

— feeling tired

This morning I was planning on writing up a review that I've been assigned, but I'm just not in a place to do it. Last night we went with the rest of my family to my favorite Mexican restaurant and their "kick-ass margaritas" lived up to their name. Between those and the spicy adovada ribs I ate, I think I need to spend this morning detoxing, after which I'm off to an election-related public forum. So maybe tonight, or more likely tomorrow.

Reading progress update: I've read 10 out of 272 pages.

American Reformers, 1815-1860, Revised Edition - Ronald G. Walters

Earlier this week I combed through my shelves and pulled out a half-dozen books to add to the book box. All of them were unread, but they are all books that I can get through our district's library system. One of them is Walters's book on antebellum reformers, which I have been meaning to read for years; I sampled the introduction, and I came across this:

[T]he patterns of thought were the same: old values were being lost and whatever was at fault had to be eliminated or controlled if America was to fulfill its destiny. Behind that reasoning was a suspicious mentality characteristic of many antebellum reformers, as well as non-reformers, that attributed the nations troubles to conspiracies of one sort or another . . . To believe that plotters were responsible for what was happening to the country was wrong; but it was part of a quest, going back at least to the eighteenth century, for secular terms in which to analyze politics and social change. Rather than seeing the hand of God moving events, many antebellum Americans saw the hands of sinister individuals. That may not have been accurate, but it was about as good as any other explanation available before Marx and modern social science.

And just like that, my reading for this weekend was set.

Reading progress update: I've read 53 out of 768 pages.

Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe - Mark Mazower

I don't know why exactly, but I'm not enjoying this book as much as I was expecting. I suspect that the focus of the early chapters may be a factor, as Mazower is covering the antecedents of Nazi occupation policy on a level with which I'm already familiar. If the chapters on the occupation of Poland have a similar feel, though, I may just skim the rest and add it to the book box.

A straightforward survey of the Persian empire

Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550-330 BCE - Matthew Waters

Considering the limited amount of materials available to study it there are a considerable number of surveys of ancient Persia for readers to choose from, ranging from A. T. Olmstead's classic History of the Persian Empire to Lindsay Allen's recent The Persian Empire. Matt Waters concise survey, which covers the history of the Achaemenid empire from the reign of Cyrus I to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 330 in a little more than 200 pages, offers little that is substantially different from these books. Its merits are in it concision and organization, as Waters presents his information in a clear and unadorned manner. Though some might find its style a little dry, its straightforward coverage of the basics of Persian history and the operations of the empire makes it an excellent book for anyone seeking a starting point for understanding a subject long distorted by ancient Greek authors and modern-day artists (I'm looking at you, Frank Miller!).

Podcast #120 is up!

In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown  - Nathaniel Philbrick

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Nathaniel Philbrick about his narrative history of the last year of the American Revolution. Enjoy!

Well, this is unusual

— feeling excited

This weekend we went to my in-laws for our annual fall birthday celebrations. This afforded me considerable time to read in conditions like this:

 

 

But for the bugs, it would have been ideal

 

Between this and the plane flight I had plenty of time to read and because of it, for the first time in months my "Currently Reading" shelf is now empty! It's giving me a heady sense of freedom, in that, with all of my immediate reading obligations finished it feels as though anything is now possible. I have to reread something for a discussion tomorrow, but after that I think I'll pull something off of my TBR shelf to read for this week. By the time I do that, the deadline for my next podcast will probably dictate what follows.

A useful introduction, but one lacking in broader analysis

Women and Achievement in Nineteenth-Century Europe - Linda L. Clark

For women living in the West, the nineteenth century was one of considerable achievement. Though most lived lives defined by gender norms enshrined by class and tradition, a determined few sought to breach the barriers before them to gain greater opportunities across a variety of fields. This effort and its accomplishments is the subject of Linda Clark's book. In a series of chapters she surveys women's advancements across professions dominated by men, from the creative fields of art, literature and music to the increasingly professional realms of education, law and medicine. Though their numbers were limited, Clark credits them with making possible the careers of the hundreds, then thousands, of women who followed them in subsequent decades, making possible the opportunities heretofore denied them.

 

Clark's book is an informative account of the campaigns for women's rights at a pivotal point in European history. Her focus is almost exclusively on women at the upper ends of society, which is understandable as they were the ones with the means to wage such efforts. Yet their more clearly delineated lives can hamper her text, as at several points her text becomes little more than a series of biographies of remarkable individuals, with little in  the way of analysis that draws out broader conclusions. This focus on the specific rather than the general extends to her coverage of national restrictions; while an understandable approach, rarely does she break from this to offer any overarching assessment that justifies such a Europe-wide approach. This makes her book a useful introduction, but one that leaves readers to draw their own conclusions as to the broader factors behind the march of women towards greater rights and equality of opportunity in the West.