A stunning story of heroism, perseverance and the will to overcome all obstacles in the face of an ally not unable, but unwilling, to fight for itself. The story of Stilwell in China could easily be understood as the prototype for what happened in Viet Nam a decade later. It was impossible for me to come away from this book without a completely new understanding of Chiang Kai-shek and the role he played (or perhaps more accurately didn't play) in the Second World War. It gives a very positive view of Stilwell and the American effort, a positive view of many, many Chinese, but a very negative view of the active government in China during World War 2. And it serves as a dramatic counter-point to the allied victories in Europe and in the Pacific.
I recommend it, but it is not an easy book to read. The book is not new (it was originally published in 1971) but Barbary Tuchman did a great service with this book and it deserves to be read. The narrator does an excellent job but, as I said, it is not an easy book to read.
I have been reading books on World War II for more than 50 years now and all of those treat Winston Churchill as the single most essential figure in the defeat of Nazi Germany, properly in my view. I have also read numerous biographies of Winston Churchill and many of those concentrate on his actions during the war and how central a figure he was in how the US, Great Britain and its Empire pursued the war. In fact the concentration on Churchill and his actions is so pronounced in many of those books that it is easy to believe that Churchill alone was responsible for the decisions and actions taken by Great Britain in its fight against Germany, in both the strategic and public policy areas. Thus Mr Schneer's book describing the individuals of the British War Cabinet and how each helped prosecute the war comes as a welcome addition to my knowledge of the war.
Many of the figures in the British War Cabinet during World War II do not get sufficient mention in most histories of the war, often because their actions were less part of the public face of the war, even if no less essential, and this book attempts to correct that failing. Thus here we see how people like Ernest Bevin, Clement Attlee and Stafford Cripps took actions that were essential in helping Britain prepare for and pursue Britain’s war aims even though many of them were either political foes of Winston Churchill or competitors for the position of Prime Minister. Here we also see some of the sub rosa political fights that occurred and some of the plans to replace Churchill with someone else as Prime Minister. Some members of the cabinet, like Bevin, were dedicated solely to the successful prosecution of the war. Others, like Cripps, had designs on the highest office in Great Britain and pursued those designs believing that they would be a better Prime Minister. And here we see how Churchill handled his political foes and remained what the author calls the greatest British Prime Minister of the 20th century if not of all British history.
There is much in this book that was new to me and understanding the background politics of the war explained much that had been opaque to me before. While I found the entire book fascinating, it helped explain to me two things that had always puzzled me - why the British voted Churchill’s government out of office near the end of the war and why Churchill, superb politician that he was, never noticed the swing in public opinion. The book does a wonderful job of laying out what was happening, how the various people reacted and how they controlled (or, in some cases, failed to control) events. The only thing about the book that does puzzle me is why Mr Schneer himself fails to see why the British public felt free to vote Churchill out of office. When, at the early part of the war, they felt they were in danger they held fast to the one person who personified their defiance. When, toward the end of the war, they understood that they would win (or, at least, not lose), they felt free of fear enough to voice their grave reservations at some of the government’s economic decisions and what they felt the future held for them. The very fact that the British public finally felt that it could contemplate a future without seeing the specter of Adolph Hitler and all of the horror of Nazi Germany as inevitable shows just how great a job Churchill and the War Cabinet did in marshaling Britain’s forces.
This book is clear that Great Britain could not have won the war without the help of the US, the Soviet Union and the British Empire, but it explains much about how the essentially British institutions of the War Cabinet and Parliament helped Britain do its best given the resources it had and how it helped keep the country united during such a terrible time. Highly recommended for those interested in the European part of World War II.
This book is one of a specific genre - aliens come to earth, humans are in great danger, a group of humans work with an existing (but often old) space ship and go out to battle the galaxy, or at least those aliens that they find. The genre is currently so popular that there are probably at least a dozen such books, or close variations, available on Audible right now and it is easy to assume that this is just one more book, indistinguishable from many others. Fortunately this book has a lot going for it.
First Mr Kennedy has created interesting characters and assembled a varied group of “soldiers” to crew this ship. They are an international group, some very quirky indeed, and the mix makes for good reading. Second the “good” aliens, and their society, are interesting and their interaction with the humans often generates into considerable humor as they don’t always understand each other. Third, there are interesting societies that we meet along the way and, lastly, there is some, but not too much, military action but that action does not get in the way of the story line. On top of all of that there are a couple of mysteries - what is the spy doing there and what are her plans? Why is the project leader so important that he was specifically chosen by the aliens to lead the mission in spite of his low military rank? And why is there an avowed CIA agent on board?
There are some drawbacks - some of the aliens are just too good (or bad) to believe. Aliens that roam the galaxy looking for a race to eat for dinner? You would think that farming might be a less expensive and dangerous way to get food. Some of the battle scenes just work out too easily, some of the aliens just have far too primitive a society to believe that they could accept the existence of other inter-planetary races so simply (try to image that happening to humans during the 1500s). And the character development that would make them more like “real people” is just missing.
Still the story is interesting enough that I decided to buy the next book in the series and this book was interesting enough that I decided to listen to it immediately rather than switch to something else first as is my usual practice. The narration is adequate, but not inspired and, if I could, I would give it 3.5 stars. Since I can not, and since I think it is better than 3 stars, I have given it 4.
Occasionally I come across a book that is so interesting that I am torn between not wanting to stop listening and not wanting to finish and, in spite of the lackluster narration, this is such a book.
Mr Bunker has given us a book that, for the first time in my reading experience, describes how the American Revolution got started, but from the British perspective. Here we are told what motivated the British to take the stands that they did, the effect of speculation on both the East India Company and the price of tea, the rampant smuggling of tea in both the UK and the colonies, why the Tea Party was such an important event to the British, the internal divisions within all of the factions on the British side, the effect, or lack thereof, of such prominent people as William Pitt The Elder, Lord North, Edmund Burke, King George III and others and much else. While the cast of this book is mostly British it also covers the actions of some Americans who were central to the formation of both British and American policies - John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Hutchinson and others. All of this takes place before the The Declaration of Independence and the start of the actual fighting, so much of it is not covered in any detail in both US History classes and in many books about the revolution.
There are some omissions. One thing that is not discussed is why the British Government never offered the colonies representation in Parliament since that was one of the main complaints within the colonies and the source of their resistance to the taxation and since it partly led to the revolution. Some books I have read of this period said that some of the leading revolutionary figures did not really want representation since it removed one of their main complaints, but I have never read anything in detail about why the British Government did not make the offer so as to remove that complaint. And, as the author points out, the idea of taxing the colonies without giving them representation was understood by the British Government and King George III to be a legitimate source of grievance.
What stands out most clearly in this book is the amount of ignorance both sides had of the other. The Americans petitioned King George III for a relief of actions which they saw as intolerable not realizing that even the King had no power to overturn these actions had he wanted to, and the British did not seem to understand how strongly the colonials felt that British action was destroying their freedoms. One of the appendices of this book describes the British Law concerning treason and why the British felt they had both a clear case of repeated treasonous acts by the colonials and no choice in what actions they had to take, even if they did not wish to do so.
All in all a very interesting and informative book. I found the narration by Robert Mackenzie to be both hesitant and uninspired. There are long pauses in the narration but parts are sufficiently fast that I found I could not speed it up to 1.25x without losing the ability to digest what is being said. The events being described were literally world-shaking, but Mr Mackenzie’s voice never seems to convey just how important the things being described are. So, excellent book, fair narration.
This is not another book on the D-Day landings or on the war in Western Europe. Instead it is largely a book on the planning that went into the D-Day landings. Neptune was the part of the concerted effort that included making sure the effort could deliver the troops to the beaches while Overlord was the part of the effort involved once the troops were ashore and this book spends the majority of its time discussing how the plans were drawn up, why specific decisions were made and how the plans expected the effort to be made. As such it covers a part of the war in Western Europe that I have never seen covered in any real detail in any other book.
Mr Symonds has written a fascinating account of what happened during this planning and covered material that is generally not even mentioned in other books. For example in this book you will find out about how competition for raw materials had an impact on decisions that were made concerning what was to be built, in what order and in what quantities, the source of the friction between the British and US army soldiers stationed in the UK during the troop buildup, some hardly ever seen information about the African-American soldiers station in the UK, a detailed explanation on landing craft and why they were the determining factor in when and how the landings were made, information on the mine sweeping operations preceding the invasion, an explanation of what went wrong with the Mulberry Harbors and much else rarely covered. While the topics may seem boring, the presentation is wonderfully done and there was not a moment in this book when I was not interested in what was being presented. While there is information concerning the war effort after the invasion began, and a detailed description of why the Omaha Beach landings were so difficult, most of this book covers the period from the US entry into the war up until D-Day and that information is full of interesting information and items I have never seen anyplace else.
While most of the book covers the planning and the discussions between the various military and political officials there is also coverage of those items of the landings that were classified as part of Neptune, not Overlord, so there is detailed coverage of the Allied effort to provide battleship and cruiser support for the troops on land at all of the landing beaches and during the attempt to take the harbor at Cherbourg.
As with most books there are some annoying items which should at least be mentioned. In the case of this book they are relatively minor but I feel compelled to at least mention one. Mr Symonds seems to have some difficulty in computing percentages and those incorrect figures are given in this book. For example, an increase from 4 million to 13 million is an increase of 225%, not “more than 300%” as described in the book and there are other similar small mistakes. But the book is so wonderfully written and the material so interesting as background to the better known story of the landings themselves that they should be regarded as barely worth mentioning. Mr Symonds has given the texture of the story that serves to hold the story of the D-Day landings together and make the long lead-up to the invasion more understandable.
Mr Symonds narrates the book and while is delivery is acceptable it is not riveting and I think this book may have been better had a more professional narrator been used. Nevertheless the material in the book is so unique and so interesting that it is easy to ignore that small shortcoming. Highly recommended for those interested in that part of World War II centered on Western Europe.
Kevin J Anderson has returned with an extension to the Saga Of The Seven Suns. This book, which takes place about 20 years after the end of the previous Saga, involves many of the same people, adds new characters and picks up in the worlds left at the end of the previous book sequence. The known worlds have settled back into normalcy. King Peter is head of the confederation, the Hanza is gone and things are pretty much at peace.
As with the previous Saga this book’s main thrust is on character development and things happen slowly. The story introduces both the previous and the new characters with events that seem both familiar (to those who read the Saga Of The Seven Suns) and a bit mundane - a father kidnapping his son to keep him safe from great danger, a hate-filled wife out to destroy her husband, Roamer clans seeking independence in a life “on the edge” and other major and minor characters. The story builds from the mundane to the serious to the critical in an expected fashion with a sudden new and terrible enemy showing up and threatening the existing peace and, of course, ends in a decent cliff-hanger. It is worth mentioning to those who have not read the previous set of books that the story will make good sense even if someone has not read The Saga Of The Seven Suns. Mr Anderson gives enough background so that the reader will not feel at a loss in understanding what is happening and why.
I was a bit reluctant to buy this book since it took Audible three years to make the remaining books of the previous Saga available even though the books had been written and published in print form. I started reading the previous Saga expecting that it would be a trilogy and that the books would be available and was a bit put off finding that only the first 3 books were actually available on Audible. After waiting 3 years for the remaining books to be made available I told myself (after finally finishing the remaining books) that I would not buy into another sequence until and unless all of the books were actually published and available on Audible, but relented because I did enjoy most of Mr Anderson’s previous books and was intrigued by a continuation of the story.
There is much to recommend this book - the familiar characters, the continuing universe of the previous story and the appearance of a great new danger, but there are also some drawbacks for me. I have no wish to wait another 3 or 4 or 5 years after print publication of these books to be able to buy the rest of this series, much of the time in the book is taken up with not much happening and there is always the fear that the resolution, when it comes, will be a bit unbelievable as it was for me in The Sage Of The Seven Suns.
The narration is done quite well although Mark Boyett has a tendency to pronounce some things slightly differently than the previous narrator David Colacci who, in turn, pronounced some things slightly differently than the previous narrator, George Guidall. Still, the book is interestingly done and, if you enjoyed The Sage Of The Seven Suns, you will probably enjoy this book as well.
This book is not a retelling of the Battle of the Bulge and many of the most famous participants are not even mentioned here. As examples (on the German side), Sepp Dietrich and Joachim Peiper and (on the Allied Side) Bernard Montgomery are not even mentioned and others like General Hasso von Manteuffel and Field Marshall Walter Model are only mentioned briefly. Nor is this book about the fight of the 102 Airborne Division in Bastogne and their actions are only covered briefly. Rather this book is very detailed description of the drive of Patton’s 3rd Army from around Saarbrucken and Luxembourg up to Bastogne to break through to those trapped there and to cut off the German forces in the south of the Bulge and, as such, it describes in great detail each battle that the 3rd Army engaged in during their drive through Belgium.
As a book about the battles it succeeds very well. It is clear that soldiers from both sides of the fights in all of the small towns along the way were interviewed by the author and their stories are told very well and I certainly came away more fully understanding both the sacrifices of those involved and the intensity of the fighting during the drive north. While I have read many books that covered the war on the Western Front, all of those covered the Battle of the Bulge by covering the actions taken by the German forces trying to fight their way to Antwerp and the Allied forces trying to stop them and none of those books gave the details of Patton’s attempt to relive those at Bastogne. Here we find the stories of the individual soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, of both armies, their attempts to both follow their orders and to stay alive and the fighting tactics of both sides are examined in detail.
The print version of this book contains maps and the prime disadvantage of the Audible version is that it does not. Much of the fighting takes place in small, out of the way, towns in Belgium and I found it very difficult to follow where the individual fighting groups were and how their positions and the terrain affected their decisions. Most online maps cover the larger thrusts and counter-thrusts of the major efforts north of the actions in this book and more modern maps are likely to contain both misleading information (they are 70 years too new and small towns may now be relatively large cities) and routes that did not exist at the time of the fighting. Some Audible history books do very well because they are overviews of what is happening but this book is very detailed in its descriptions and I found it hard to find many of the roads and towns mentioned on maps of the Battle of the Bulge.
On the other hand the stories of those involved are clear, very interesting and encapsulate the larger struggle, and the relative merits of the individual weapons was a big help. Here we find a description of both the advantages and disadvantages of the Sherman tank, why the Stuart tanks were still in use this late in the war, the various different configurations of the tanks and, perhaps in too much detail, the physical weapon makeup of both the US and German divisions. In addition, although much of the book is about how the various weapons affected the battle, the book never loses sight of the people involved, civilians and soldiers.
It is difficult for me to adequately rate this book since I am torn between rating the content of the book itself and the failings of the Audible version because it does not contain any maps or photos. Without maps the timeline and sequence was difficult for me to follow. The book was also a bit of a disappointment because it concentrates on the front line soldiers and there is little of what was happening at a higher level. I personally would have liked to have learned more about what was going on at the headquarters of both sides during this part of the battle and also about how the effort to break through to those at Bastogne affected the strategy of others involved in the fighting in the Bulge. It is easy to get the feeling that Patton just turned his 3rd Army to the north and then let them work it all out on their own since nothing in the book says otherwise. Patton, being who he was, certainly was more involved, but any such involvement does not appear in this book.
Tom Weiner’s narration is very well done. If allowed I would give this book 3 1/2 stars because of the limitations of the Audible version but, since I cannot and since 3 stars seems too low a rating, I have given it 4 stars. For what it is, the book is very well done. I just would have liked a larger picture.
I have read three biographies of Winston Churchill, one of them (by William Manchester) was itself three volumes, so I was not sure there was much about his life that was there to be learned and had some hesitation about buying this book. But Boris Johnson, who is himself an interesting politician with an even more interesting background, has written a book which is not a biography but a book about what made Churchill capable of being the one man who saved Western Civilization from the horrors of Nazi Germany. Thus Mr Johnson looks at the things that made Churchill who he was and how those characteristics contributed to the one person who was essential at a truly pivotal moment.
But Mr Johnson has created a canvas of more than just World War II and looked at Churchill’s contributions in The Boer War, World War I, World War II and the period leading up to the start of the European Union and shown how, at each point, Churchill’s contributions were essential to Britain’s victories or were ignored by those in power resulting in decisions that left Britain far worse off than it could have been. Indeed, while Churchill and World War II are at the core of how people remember Churchill Mr Johnson spends a great deal of time covering Churchill’s work on behalf of the working poor in the UK, his efforts to improve the living conditions of the poor throughout the British Empire, his efforts to secure a united and peaceful Europe after the war and much, more more. As part of this we are treated to many stories and anecdotes, both true and false, about Churchill’s life, we look at what helped make him the person he became and how the world we are living in today is largely his legacy. The book is amusing at times, sorrowful at others but always interesting.
The book is not an academic approach but is clearly a work of admiration for a truly great man and Mr Johnson makes the case that there was no one else who could have taken Churchill’s place, at least during World War II, and that had he not been who he was the world we live in today would be very, very different. The book is narrated by Simon Shepherd who does a very good job. Highly recommended for those with an interest in recent British history.
Frankie Machine is a mafia killer and he is called "The Machine" because, when given an order to kill someone, he just does it like a machine. No questions. No excuses. He just does the job. So why am I cheering for this thoroughly bad guy to get out of this mess alive?
Well, I suppose it helps that he has only been asked to kill other mafia types. And I suppose it helps that he has a normal sort of family. And I suppose it helps that he has retired and is trying to live a normal life. But, most of all, I suppose it helps because Don Winslow has written a thoroughly enjoyable edge of your seat sort of book where Frankie, who has become a target for other mafia killers, is trying to stay alive long enough to find out why they are out after him. He is retired. He is out of the business and trying to live a normal life. Frankie, The Bait Guy, is on the run and, with his ex-wife, his daughter, his girl friend and his acquaintance in the FBI he might just have a chance.
Mr Winslow has given us an excellent book that is part mystery (why are they out after him), part thriller and part love story, all in just the right amounts and Dennis Boutsikaris does just as good a job at narrating as Mr Winslow did in writing. I will certainly be looking for more of Mr Winslow's books in the future.
Jo Walton has given us a brilliantly thought out alternative to the existing post World War II world that we know. England has replaced Churchill with an appeasement minded Prime Minister, has struck a deal with Hitler, the war in western Europe has ended and 8 years later Hitler is still fighting in Russia. England, like all independent powers on the periphery of the Third Reich, has slid into a milder form of fascism and is trying to accommodate itself to the new reality. It is both horrifying and easily believable.
This volume, the second in the series, involves the police, under an independently minded, but politically compromised, inspector trying to determine what was behind the explosion of a bomb in a London area residence. This book, like the first, tackles the story through the eyes of two separate individuals whose fate are eventually intertwined. In this case we have the story through Inspector Carmichael’s eyes and those of the lead actress in a new version of Hamlet that is to be staged. How the two tales come together and how the mystery is solved constitutes this book.
As with the first book in this series the characters seem real, the story progresses logically and nothing that takes place seems unreasonable. The chain of evidence from the bomb to the plot that drives the book is forged one link at a time and it is all so real that this could have been a history rather than a novel. All of the participants are inevitably drawn into their actions by small incremental choices and nothing seems like an unreasonable stretch. The reader is left with both the horror of the created world and the feeling that, without someone like Churchill, all of this could have happened. I was drained at the end of the book by the horror of a world that could easily have been and by the fates of those involved in this book and I needed to keep telling myself that this was a novel and not real.
I did not review the first book in this series because I was also left horrified by the world presented by the story and did not know how to properly explain how both wonderful the book was and how horrible the created world felt but, with the second book, I felt I needed to put something down on paper. Both of these books are simply wonderful, splendidly narrated and will leave you disquieted and uneasy. They certainly did leave me that way. I will buy and read the third volume but I must give myself some time first.
I have read many of Mr Forstchen’s books and generally enjoyed them so, when I saw this book, I naturally added it to my wish list and, when I wanted something light to read, I bought it. The book purports to be a novel about the building of a space based platform allowing humans to both inexpensively bring objects into space and to collect unlimited solar power for distribution on earth, both worthy goals, but the story was a considerable disappointment to me.
First of all the book does not feel like a novel, but rather like a sales brochure for a set of ideas. The characters are comic book simple and one dimensional - either completely selfless, generous and kind or selfish, undeserving and evil hearted. It feels as though there are no real people in this book. Second, the situations in the book also do not feel real. While the underlying concept is probably scientifically sound and within reach of people in the next 20 or so years, the idea that a couple of people could produce the core functionality with the funds generated mostly by one individual seems wishful thinking at best and the idea that the hidden “lie” behind the first effort would not raise a legal ruckus and shut down the project just feels unreasonable. But, of course, the investors, all very wealthy people, are all selfless and willing to give and give and give, even when lied to. It is all a very pretty concept, but I would like to know what planet Mr Forstchen thought he was writing about.
There is more. There seems to be very little of the tension that often makes books interesting. There is virtually no question about what is going to happen, when it is going to happen and how it will be resolved. If this book had been included between the covers of a glossy brochure as a sales promotion for the idea of limitless power from solar cells, the elimination of Global Warming and the end of having to boost rockets into orbit I would understand how simplistic it felt. As it is I do not.
Grover Gardner does the narration and I believe it is impossible for him to do anything other than an outstanding job narrating anything, including this book, but I have always felt that his narration is best suited for books involving historic events - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, The Civil War and so on. Wasting his talent on a book like this felt like having James Earl Jones do the voice-over for a cartoon - just a waste of his time and talent. So, in spite of his wonderful narration I cannot recommend this book.
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