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Currently reading

Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483-1521
Martin Brecht
Progress: 236/543 pages

Gone readin'

I was going to write up a review or two this morning, but the weather is so unseasonably nice outside that I'm going to take my book and a cup of coffee and read outdoors. I hope you're enjoying your Saturday!

Recommendations for YA books on racism

A couple of days ago a friend of mine posted a list of recent YA books on racism. It has a lot of interesting selections, a couple of which I suspect will end up soon on my son's shelf.

An excellent introduction to the French leader

De Gaulle - Julian Jackson

Normally I'm not a fan of short biographies, as for too many of them concision of the subject's life comes at the cost of in-depth insight. There are some books, however, which are the exception to this, and Julian Jackson's biography of Charles de Gaulle is one of them. A big reason for this is his prioritization of what matters; the majority of the book focuses on de Gaulle's political career, in particular his eleven years as president of France. Yet Jackson doesn't ignore de Gaulle's early life, as he summarizes it in a way that highlights his development as a leader, such as his inter-war writings and his relationship with Philippe Pétain. While this necessarily means that subjects such as his personal life get short shrift, the result is a book that is a superb introduction for anyone seeking an introduction to the French leader and his legacy.

Podcast #70 is up!

The General's Niece: The Little-Known de Gaulle Who Fought to Free Occupied France - Paige Bowers

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Paige Bowers about her new biography of Geneviève de Gaulle, who worked to help her uncle from inside occupied France. Enjoy!

NY Times's 20 Must-Read Books on the Vietnam War

With Ken Burns's new documentary on the Vietnam War premiering tonight, the New York Times had one of their editors publish a list of twenty books on the Vietnam War. It's pretty solid -- most of the key classics are there, as well as a couple of the newer books -- so if you're looking to read up on the topic du jour this is a good place to start.

Reading progress update: I've read 277 out of 496 pages.

The British Army and the First World War (Armies of the Great War) - Timothy Bowman, Mark Connelly, Ian F. W. Beckett

Now that I'm into the authors' coverage of the British Army's operations on the Western Front I think my previous complaint about the book is somewhat misplaced. It's clear that they wanted to write (or were tasked with providing) a history of the army as a fighting organization, and a social history of the army distracts from that goal. I still think the book would have been better with something about what life was like for Tommies, though,

An encyclopedic account of the "Doughboys" of World War I

Pershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I - Richard S Faulkner

This is an encyclopedic book in the best sense of the term. Richard S. Faulkner's goal is to provide readers with a comprehensive social history of the men who served with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, one that covers everything from their enlistment to their discharge. To address their service in all their particulars is a daunting task requiring mastering an enormous body of material, yet Faulkner succeeds admirably in addressing nearly every imaginable aspect of it. The result serves not only as a wide-ranging account of the varied experiences of the "doughboys" but as a reference that readers will be able to turn to for an introduction to various details they might want to learn. For these reasons, it is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the U.S. military or the First World War, one that is unlikely to be bettered in terms of its thoroughness and insight.

Reading progress update: I've read 135 out of 496 pages.

The British Army and the First World War (Armies of the Great War) - Timothy Bowman, Mark Connelly, Ian F. W. Beckett

I'm three chapters in and so far I'm finding it very enlightening. I suspect that I'm not going to like the second half of the book as much, though, as in subsequent chapters the authors are going to transition away from descriptions of the composition and assemblage of the army to an account of their operations. Perhaps it's a consequence of having read Faulkner's Pershing's Crusade so recently, but I feel as though not covering the social history of the army in more detail is a missed opportunity.

Arguing History #3: Was Presidential Leadership Decisive in Determining the Outcome of the Civil War?

My third Arguing History podcast is up! In it, I host historians William J. Cooper and Richard Carwardine in a discussion of the question, "Was Presidential Leadership Decisive in Determining the Outcome of the Civil War? " Enjoy!

My sixty-ninth podcast is up!

The City of London and Social Democracy: The Political Economy of Finance in Post-war Britain - Aled Davies

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Aled Davies about his book on how the growing financialization of the British economy in the 1960s and 1970s affected social democracy in the postwar era. Enjoy!

I like big books and I cannot lie . . .

Yesterday I was with my son at one of our local Half Price Book stores and I found this little gem.



This is a book I have wanted ever since I first saw it. Which was when I laid eyes on it yesterday on the shelf at one of my local Half Price Book stores.


Part of my brain counseled reason. Why should I buy a nearly 1000-page book on the reign of Henry VI, it pointed out, when 1) I have so many other books to read, 2) I have so many other books specifically on 15th century England to read, and 3) I have no practical need to own this book as I never cover the subject to the degree where I would benefit from reading a nearly 1000-page book on the reign of Henry VI?



So now I have to find shelf space for this doorstopper. And I couldn't be happier.

Reading progress update: I've read 260 out of 784 pages.

Pershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I - Richard S Faulkner

Though I started it nearly a month ago it's only over the past few days that I've finally dug deep into it. It's proving encyclopedic in the best sense of the term, as Faulkner tries to relate just about every aspect of the "doughboy's'" experience.

Podcast #68 is up!

Beyond the Arab Cold War: The International History of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68 - Asher Orkaby

My sixty-eighth podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Asher Orkaby about his new history of the role of international powers in the North Yemen Civil War. Enjoy!

Stretching Wells's style out of shape

The Massacre of Mankind: Sequel to The War of the Worlds - Stephen Baxter

I really wanted to like this book. H. G. Wells's original novel was one of my favorite books growing up, and I really liked Stephen Baxter's sequel to The Time Machine. And by and large what he has written is an enjoyable book, filled with action and brimming with speculation as to how the aftermath of a turn-of-the-century world might have been changed by the first Martian invasion.

And yet there are serious flaws that prevent this from being as successful of a work as Baxter's The Time Ships. The main problem is the mismatch of structure and scope, as Baxter attempts as he did in his previous sequel to apply Wells's approach of relating events primarily through a single narrator to a book in which the plot unfolds on a global scale. While Julie Elphinstone is effective as a character, her inability to be everywhere at once means relying upon other characters (interviewed by Julie after the events), all of whom relate their stories with implausible accuracy. Perhaps Baxter would have been better off relying upon the "oral history" approach Max Brooks used so successfully in World War Z. While the result would have been less Wellsian than Baxter intended, it would have been a better way to convey the epic scale to which he so clearly aspired.

Betraying my past intentions

— feeling sad

Yesterday I decided to part with a half-dozen books. All but one of them had sat unread on my shelves for years, positioned at that unfortunate crossroads of genuine interest, good intentions, and low priority. Such are my shelf space problems, though, that I had to face reality at last, and they now are all in the book box that I take to my local used bookstores to exchange for trade credit.


Culling my collection is always an experience that leaves me a little sad. Every single book I place on one of my selves I do so with a sincere goal of reading it someday and the expectation that even after I do so I will want to own that book for years to come. Though my interests evolve and some of the books have waited to be read for so long that they've been superseded by better ones, every time I remove one it feels like a small betrayal of those intentions and a loss of everything that I would have gained from reading that particular title. It helps that I will still have access to all of them through my library (Inter-Library Loan is truly one of the best things about our modern age), but the day might still come when, should the opportunity arise for me to read one of the books that I'm giving away, I may regret having given away the copy that I once owned.

My sixty-seventh podcast is up!

Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites who Fought for Women's Right to Vote - Johanna Neuman

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Johanna Neuman about her new study of the role that New York socialites played in "first wave" feminist activism. Enjoy!