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The Sinews of Habsburg Power: Lower Austria in a Fiscal-Military State 1650-1820
William D. Godsey Jr.
Pandora’s Box A History of the First World War
Jörn Leonhard, Patrick Camiller
Progress: 111/1104 pages
The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914
Richard J. Evans
Progress: 219/928 pages

To go all-in or not?

Lincoln's Trident: The West Gulf Blockading Squadron during the Civil War - Robert M. Browning Jr.

A few weeks back I discovered what amounts to a siren's call for me of a multi-volume history series of which I was unaware. In this case it's a three-volume history of the Union Navy's blockade of the Confederacy, an aspect of the Civil War that was a major factor in its outcome. Once upon a time I would have spent the money to acquire it sight unseen; now I'm wiser and I used my ways to get the third volume for free. I'm reading it now (fortunately it's not sequential), and I'm trying to determine whether I should go all-in and get the other volumes.


Only I can't decide whether I want them or not.


For me, deciding whether or not to buy a book requires answering three questions regarding accessibility (do I want/need to have it available to me at a moment's notice?), readability (is this a book that I will enjoy returning to?), and utility (is this useful enough to keep as a resource?). Not all three answers have to be in the affirmative, but the books I own need to meet two of the three criteria to justify a presence on the finite amount of shelf space I possess.


The problem with Browning's series is that it's proving difficult to answer any of those questions. So far it seems that his books are more narrative than analysis, consisting of the efforts by the naval squadrons on station to interdict trade. I'm enjoying reading about these encounters, but I was hoping it would incorporate a look at the logistical challenges of maintaining the effort (which Browning references in passing but doesn't seem interested in explaining), descriptions of what life was like for the sailors, or a broader examination of the impact of the blockade on Confederate commerce overall. Nor are his descriptions of his battles all that detailed; Browning knows his limits as a writer and doesn't purple his prose in an effort to sensationalize his text. These factors point me to to the conclusion that I should pass on getting the other volumes and rely upon libraries should I ever want to read them.


And then I start to think, "But it's three volumes! On an interesting subject! And I already own the most expensive one!" So then I find myself right back where I started, with my finger hovering over the proverbial "Purchase" button and unable to either press it or move my hand away.


Oh, well, perhaps the answer will be clearer after I read another 100 pages.