I have listened to and read a great deal of material on both world wars and thought I had a clear grasp of the essential action. Here I was proved wrong. "The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944" is the second of a trilogy covering the North African, Italian and Western Europe theaters. I stumbled across this one first without listening to the others.
Besides my interest in history I have spent much time in Italy and thought this would add detail to the places I have visited and explored. This indeed was the case. I will never view Monte Casino and the surrounding countryside the same again, nor the pleasant hills and villages of Sicily.
The narration is perfect, Jonathan Davis has just the right blend of voice quality and pace to take you through these years of destruction, stupidity, ill fortune and bravery. The author Rick Atkinson provides a good balance of both the Allied and Axis viewpoints and you get a real feel for what forces caused which actions. For you the book is a significant investment in time (not to mention if you get the entire trilogy) but it is well worth the listen.
The research is significant and, although you already know how the story will end, you are continually amazed at the unending calamitous action from both perspectives. I was also introduced to participants from countries that I had not realized were involved, such as the Indian and Polish units that played significant parts in these battles.
It is hard to grasp that these young men (even the generals were relatively young) were our fathers and grandfathers and their epic trials are still within living memory. You will never look at these men the same again after hearing what they went through. By the end of the book you are actually weary of war and death and need a rest.
"Basque History of the World" I found very appealing since it was a corner of world history that I was sadly lacking in understanding. Mark Kurlansky does a creditable job in assembling this account and I for one am grateful. The influence of these people went far beyond their population and national power.
I don't know why I was unaware of their seafaring prowess and effect on trade and commerce throughout a great deal of European history and beyond. Ship building, mining and border issues were some of the important roles that Basques played a part in. I especially liked the ancient history of the Basques, including their origins, language and iconoclastic culture.
The narrator, George Guidall, is always good and makes the journey through the details of a long and eventful story a pleasure.
The last third of the book gets mired down in a miasma of multi party disputes and allegiances which I found not to be as engaging as the first part. The recitation of 20th century struggles of E.T.A. and Franco were not as enlightening as was the tale of the earlier centuries of how this small corner of Europe survived and thrived. It retained its own speech and customs which last to this day in spite of the pressure of vastly more powerful and numerous neighbors and enemies.
If you are a history buff this would be a good listen, at least most of it.
The present relationships and emotions between Europe and the near-eastern Muslim world were reborn and reformed in this 16th century time frame described in "Empires of the Sea: The Contest for the Center of the World". It wasn't until I had listened to this book that I understood the significance of all the watch towers that line practically every piece of coastline along the entire Italian peninsula. Today these seem quaint and picturesque but in an earlier time they meant life or death or slavery by the warning they might give the people of any town or village that is exposed to the sea.
The savagery of the Muslim raiders and the fate of entire towns down to the last child, branded the black image of "The Turk" onto the Christian mind and memory. Although there were religious influences effecting the actions of the various peoples involved, it was at its core a conflict over power, trade and fortune.
If you think you know the history of Western Civilization and you don't know much about this particular time, then you will not really understand the present and a good chunk of the past. Roger Crowley does a superb job of giving the details (and there are plenty of details) in a storybook style that makes you want to know how it all comes out. John Lee is amazing as well, he always makes the narrative better.
The Ottoman Empire was a formidable force to be reckoned with at this time. Every country in Europe was concerned to one degree or another with this threat from the East. I was astonished to discover my own ignorance of vast scale of this conflict. The characters of this story are fascinating, on both the Muslim and Christian sides. Bravery, endurance and incredible savagery play parts in this narrative.
More importantly, this history allows you to better understand the posture, attitude, rhetoric and actions of the two sides in the present clash of violence and instability. The one thing you will discover is that neither side can support their claim that peace and tolerance flow from their religious theologies.
To a limited number of history buffs "The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919" will have meaning. In my case, my grandfather was a participant in this interminable carnage. As you drive through any village down the length of Italy you will invariably see a monument in the central piazza to "I nostri caduti" "Our dead" from the first world war. And I mean EVERY hamlet no matter how small, some with just three or four names etched on a weathered monument.
Listening to this account of the unbelievable stupid military tactics and waste of human life in this lost part of the war has changed my viewpoint as I visit these towns and villages. I now always stop and carefully examine these forgotten memorials and read each name and imagine what their lives were like and the effect it had on their families and home towns.
Beside the engrossing account of the actual fighting, impossible terrain and weather conditions, the book gives insight into the growth of Italy into a nation state from an assortment of provinces. Men who could not even speak Italian, such as those from the islands of Sardinia and Sicily were mingled with a thousand sub cultures that made up the Italian mainland. It was the first time some people actually thought of themselves as belonging to the entity called Italy.
The author Mark Thompson does a creditable job gathering the facts and presents them in a smooth historical flow. The narration by Gerard Doyle could be warmer and with more dramatic effect but it will do as is.
The names and fates of all those preserved on those monuments are mostly forgotten as are the battles fought with almost no gain in territory or military accomplishment. I look at this work as an effort to acknowledge what they went through and suffered. I found this listen worthwhile and gave meaning to a lost corner of the first world war.
I came to this series late and eventually read this first installment after several of the subsequent books. I wish I had started here to understand the beginnings of the main characters more fully. In this initial book we meet John Aubery and Steven Maturin in their first meeting and how their friendship began. I absolutely love the narrator, Patrick Tull. I have read sad reviews of his slow pace but that is exactly what attracts me to him. I am not in a hurry, I prefer that slow development of character and atmosphere which O'brian is a master of. If you want quick and rapid fire action look somewhere else.
O'brian is a consumate observer of the men of war sailing ships of the late 18th century and you get the full details of the daily routine and life of those sailors. The history seems creditable and if you know anything about this era and the forces involved then it is a wonder to behold.
Very graphic in the bloody accounts of battle and the hash society of those times, it brings history to life as few other works do for me. This book starts you off in a long and eventful story of over 18 editions, taking Aubrey from his first command to his eventual last adventure.
Have some patience with this and the next couple of books and you will be rewarded.
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