|Reading Summer 2004|
|9/21/04 -- Sort of in between and after GWW (below), I've re-read the first six Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I'm busy at work, I'm tired, I'm looking for escapist fare. I like Discworld, so there.|
|9/21/04 -- Again, I've let things go a bit here. Bill Eddleman loaned me Bruce Chadwick's George Washington's War. In response to my earlier mention of Washington, i.e. What the heck did he DO in the revolution, this book gives the details. Turns out he was, first and foremost, a consummate politician. He managed to bully and persuade the Congress and the local farmers to keep feeding the troops through the long war, and he kept enough troops from deserting to maintain a credible threat against the British. Eventually, with a couple of minor victories, this was enough to bring the French in on our side, resulting in victory in the end. The author is a bit too uncritical for my taste -- it's really a hagiography of Washington. For instance, he reports from one of Washington's letters that he was entirely surprised and taken aback that the Continental Congress appointed him commander of the revolutionary army. This after he wore his full uniform every day during the Congress! Still, if you read between the lines, there's a lot of good information in this book that I haven't seen elsewhere.|
|? Forget when -- Eddleman also loaned me Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss, a humorous polemic against bad punctuation everywhere. I'm still about ready to hold a funeral for the apostrophe, but at least here's someone who is trying to keep it on life support.|
|8/14/04 -- Well, now I have to try to reconstruct what I've been reading the last six weeks. I was busy in the lab and though I wasn't too busy to read, I was too busy to write about it. First I think was The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson. This is, I think, the best single-volume Civil War history available. It's written in a very approachable narrative style, and spends time on both the battles and the social history of the time. While re-reading this (I actually had to buy a new copy this year because my old one disintegrated) I got particularly interested in Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas.|
|One of the sources that McPherson used a lot was The March to the Sea and Beyond, by Joseph T. Glatthaar, a man whose name absolutely defies my powers of spelling every time. I ordered it through BookFinder, then borrowed it from Kent Library while waiting for it to come. This book, which appears to have been a Ph.D. dissertation, examines Sherman's march through the eyes of the Union soldiers participating in it. The author makes use of original diaries and letters throughout, which gives it a very personal appeal. It's pretty much adulatory in its approach to Sherman himself.|
|For balance I also read Sherman's March, by Burke Davis. This one relies much more on the contemporary accounts by Southerners who were in Sherman's path, and naturally paints a much grimmer picture of events. It's actually an easier read than Glatthaar's book, though more painful in its depiction of the human cost of the war.|
|Somewhere in here I got sidetracked and read a couple of books by Christopher Moore. One was Coyote Blue, which is the story of the reawakening of a thoroughly assimilated American Indian, as well as a struggle among gods as diverse as the Trickster Coyote and Anubis.|
A book that Glatthaar referred to in his account of Sherman's march (I think) was The History of Black Americans, by Philip Foner. I got the first volume out of Kent library, and I'll be going back for the others. Foner is a controversial figure -- google him and you'll see what I mean -- but the book is an impressive three-volume compendium of a vast amount of original material about black people on this continent. Usually pretty even-handed, Foner debunks some of the radicals in the field while still painting a convincing picture of the racism and short-sightedness of the white "fathers of our country." The first volume is subtitled "From Africa to the Emergence of the Cotton Kingdom," so the Civil War era doesn't appear until the next.
|7/3/04 -- I finished reading How the North Won today. A fine book. Occasionally just a tad more than I really wanted to know about the structure of command headquarters and generals' staffs, but highly insightful anyway. Now I need to find something else. I'm still reading The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered, but mainly at work in odd moments.|
|6/25/04 -- I didn't want to take How the North Won to Mountain View, Arkansas for the annual St. Louis Irish Arts performances, so I took this smaller, more packable book of essays about the Civil War: Drawn with the Sword, by James M. McPherson. I've owned it for a long time, but had only read the first essay. It's actually a very readable book, and some of the essays could serve as models of scientific reasoning for my students. Well, okay, historiographical reasoning, but it's not really much different. The essay on Why the South Lost is a perfect example. He examines various hypotheses that have been presented by other authors, looks at the predictions they make about various types of evidence, and shows how they have been falsified. Finally he develops his own hypothesis and presents supporting evidence. Lots of food for thought here.|
|6/15/04 -- I slipped in another Discworld book sometime around here. As always, entertaining. This one actually has a more coherent and developed plot than many, as the three witches (see Wyrd Sisters) have to travel to Faraway to stop the evil exploits of Granny Weatherwax's sister. The evil sister is using her powers to force the people of Faraway to enact various stories, so there are lots of allusions to fairy tales, etc. Throw in a Marie Laveau - like Voudou queen, and it's another good bit of entertainment from Terry Pratchett.|
|6/10/04 -- Robin brought Island of the Sequined Love Nun back from her trip to Costa Rica, and I couldn't resist reading it over the weekend. Christopher Moore is the wittiest writer alive. This one has a few awkward moments -- a couple of jokes spelled out with too heavy a hand, and so on -- which I attributed to it being one of his earlier books. Lamb is still his best, but this one was very enjoyable. A fast read -- I read it in a couple of evening while playing hooky from the two books below.|
|6/10/04 - While reading How the North Won at home, I'm reading Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered, edited by Bruce Weber and David Depew in odd moments at work. I think I'll try to write a review for Zygon or someone like that, as it's fairly pertinent to the Science/Religion field. Unless someone beats me to the punch.|
|6/9/04 - Now I'm starting on How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War, by Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and Jerry A. Vanderlinde. I've read it before, but it's worth a second time. The book goes through the major campaigns of the Civil War and analyzes them in terms of military theory, particularly logistics and tactics. It's an introduction to military theory for beginners, and the maps and diagrams are absolutely great. You get more real understanding of the way the battles worked from this book than from the more narrative-oriented histories by people like Foote and Catton.|
|6/8/04 - Read some more
O'Brian books: The Far Side of the World, The Letter of Marque, The
Reverse of the Medal, and The Surgeon's Mate.
|6/9/04 -- Finished reading Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward. I read this intermittently between O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books. It's well written, and I think quite balanced in its viewpoint. Certainly major Bush administration figures had the chance to explain their views of the events. No matter how you look at it, though, it's pretty clear that we had great narrowly military planning and really poor political and diplomatic planning. The whole plan for what we would do after Saddam's government fell seems to have been based on the idea that the population would all be throwing rose petals at our feet. It's no wonder the situation has dragged on into the current mess.|
5/24/04 Well, I got on another run of addictive behavior here and
read several Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian right in a row.
All of them highly entertaining. I think Desolation Island was my
favorite so far, with a knuckle-biting stern chase in a gale on the open
ocean. O'Brian conveys enough of the workings of a sailing ship to
give the reader some hint of the physical and mental effort required to
fight battles in a vessel moved only by the wind. In addition, the
doctor serves as a reason to bring in descriptions of flora, fauna, and
peoples of exotic places around the world. O'Brian's language is
carefully chosen to heighten the period effect, with sentence structure
reminiscent of actual nineteenth-century literature. An amazing
series of books.