I've always been interested in stories of naval warfare in all ages. I had once read a history of the War of 1812, but it put more emphasis on attacking President James Madison (our fourth president, 1809-1817) than on recounting the major battles. This new volume, with its emphasis on the Navy, seemed like a natural for me to hear.
In truth, President Madison does not come out from this war looking very good. Illustrious historian George C. Daughan may focus on the naval battles, but he covers diplomacy and the land war in good depth. The President had, in the years preceding the war, turned back most of the attempts of the opposition Federalist party to spend a significant amount of money on defense and particularly on a great expansion of the country's small navy.
In spite of the United State's great inferiority to Great Britain in every area of warfare, in 1812 the latter nation was tied up in Europe fighting the long war with Napoleon. This, thought many of our leaders, gave the United States a chance. Ostensibly, this war was initiated over the British practice of impressment. You may remember impressment from high school as British warships stopping American merchantmen on the high seas and forcing sailors on the American ships to join the crews of the warships.
As much as this practice was truly resented by the United States, according to Daughan the true enticement of this war for Madison was that he thought that after declaring war on Great Britain the United States would have little trouble attacking, invading, and annexing large areas of lightly defended Canada.
As it turned out, the soldiers, officers, and Navy of the United States were so weak that the British not only had little difficulty keeping out the invaders but soon were readying their own invasion of parts of the Northeast. The United States "Army" fighting there was a combination of a few hundred "regular" soldiers, two or three times as many ill-trained state militia, and a certain amount of Indians who liked to stay behind to scalp the dead.
Since control of the Great Lakes was a necessity to any invader, intense rival naval building programs began in 1814 on the shores of the Great Lakes. The Americans by then had identified its worst officers and replaced them with much more competent young men who included Stephen Decatur and Winfield Scott. Ultimately the United States won the naval battles on the lakes and kept control of them. This left the territorial map of the Northeast looking very much the same as it had looked in 1812.
Daughan's book is divided rather equally between the action in the Northeast and the naval engagements on the high seas. He alternates between telling the story of each. The famous ship against ship battles were of no strategic significance to the war, but at the time they caused sensations on both sides of the Atlantic and today they are still what the war is best remembered for.
The crux of the blue-water navy action is the blockade that Great Britain put on American ports at the outbreak of the war. The blockade had the twin intent of cutting off the commerce of its former colonies and keeping the U.S. navy ships trapped in ports where they were of no use as raiders of British commerce.
At first the blockade was not very successful because Great Britain was still heavily involved in the Napoleonic wars and could not spare nearly enough ships to guard the entire Atlantic coast. But as more warships freed up and joined the blockade, it began to bite. The biggest loser was New England, that depended the most on merchant shipping for its livelihood. New England was already almost wholly of the Federalist Party, which furnished the opposition to Madison's Republicans. As their economic plight worsened, their fury at "Mr. Madison's War" increased and talk of separating from the union and negotiating a separate peace with Great Britain began.
United States warships, especially early in the war, had little difficulty evading the blockade and getting out to sea. The author gives a thorough account of all US naval operations involving a major United States Navy ship, almost always a frigate, or a task force which included a frigate. He follows each course change, each ship encountered, and each action, if any. And often there isn't any significant action.
It is in this area that I am a little disappointed in Daughan. For each United States task force, and for each British force encountered, he invariably gives you each ship name, commanding officer, and number and type of guns down to the last small brig. He does this even if their cruise turns out to be uneventful. It's a bit tedious and certainly pointless to the average reader.
The ship battles are described in detail, but perhaps not as much detail as you would hope for when reading one of the climactic passages in the book. I also felt like I was watching the battle from a third ship instead of from one of the combatant ships, with very little description of the actions of the various members of the crew during the fight.
But I don't want to sound too critical. Overall Daughan delivers on his promise of describing the role of the Navy in the War of 1812.
As word reached London of the victory of the Constitution over the Guerriere, followed by the news of two more victories of American frigates over British frigates, it caused a sensation. Such was the reverence of the British for their navy that it was an article of faith that no British ship could lose a one-on-one battle to a ship of equal size. Even as word leaked into London that the Constitution was a "super" frigate, rated at forty-four guns instead of the thirty-six of the defeated British frigates, it did little to restore British pride. Captains of British frigates were, however, ordered to avoid one-on-one combat with the larger American frigates. (This probably disappointed them since it appears that every captain of every frigate on each side dreamed every night of the glory of pulling alongside another frigate and blasting away at the other ship while that ship blasted away at him. It did not seem to bother the captain that at the end of the battle, if he survived it, he would be missing a limb or two.)
I was intrigued by the author's summation of the outcome of the war. The main outcome produced by the Treaty of Ghent was to put all territorial borders back to where they had been before the war. The maritime issues, mainly impressment, that had supposedly been the reason that the United States had declared war, were not mentioned at all. On the surface there was just about nothing to show for the expense of dollars and lives. I would not blame anyone for reaching that conclusion.
Daughan, however, argues that the performance of the United States navy in the war led Great Britain to a new level of respect for the United States which allowed the two old enemies to begin a long friendship and provided peace for the United States to expand and develop.
As American victories continued (no, we did not win them all) on the ocean and on the lakes, the British gradually ceased to regard their former colonists as a rag-tag rabble that ran away at the first opportunity. Daughan does not cite any support for his summation of the effects of the war, but it makes for a satisfying end to a very good history.
So many have reviewed this book that another long review isn't needed. Let me just say that if you think you've read them all, you haven't read this one.
Your typical mystery/suspense novel devotes the first third to the crime, the second third to the buildup that led to the crime, and the rest to the solution and the exposure of the criminal. Or even more commonly it starts with character introduction and the story leads to the crime and the crime to the solution and the bad guy.
Gone Girl breaks the mold, revealing the criminal and crime in the middle and still managing to maintain suspense to the end. The first third will have you suspecting that the author is up to something, giving out clues as to who has done what to whom, but you won't be sure and you will still be at least a little astounded when you run into the facts in the middle.
Despite the staggering originality of this novel, I only gave it four stars because the author could not pull it off without creating a character who anyone could ever mistake for a human being. This creature had to have some blood of an evil alien flowing through the veins.
I thought I knew my English Lit pretty well, but this novel was a complete surprise. It combined some memorable characters suggestive of Dickens with the manners of Jane Austen and the mystery and suspense of Agatha Christie. The device of using different narrators at different part of the novel was very clever.
Late one night, when young ladies should have been in bed, the young male protagonist encounters a young woman dressed in white lurking in the wood by the side of the highway to London. Although anxious, she decides to trust the young man to assist him. He soon has her on a cab to London. He is intrigued by the incident, but continues on his journey, never expecting to encounter her again.
Instead the mysterious woman in white and the story of her appearance that night will come to occupy him for a long time to come.
When I started listening to the introduction to this book, I thought that it would soon become only the second Audible book that I could not complete. The person reading had that sneering, sarcastic voice usually reserved for attack ads in political campaigns. Here comes an ideological attack on Roosevelt.
What I was looking for was a balanced view of the effect of the New Deal on the Great Depression. Great American presidents most of the time quickly become mythical. No one is perfect and can please everyone in his or her life. A minor example: most people in the country think that Lincoln freed all the slaves when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Nope. Just the slaves in the Confederate states. It was politically expedient.
I have heard that FDR was a great president. Certainly a great war leader. But, taking over the country in 1933 in the midst of a terrible depression, what was being said about his "New Deal" projects enacted to fight the depression.
Folsom was so upset, it seemed to me, that the New Deal programs were being taught as a successful way In which Roosevelt eventually pulled the country out of the depression. What I was taught in the late 60s was that Roosevelt's upbeat personality and calm Sunday radio addresses (call "Fireside Chats") had immediately raised the morale of the American people. His New Deal policies effectively raised taxes and used the proceeds to pay unemployed Americans to build public works as well as many minor positions and, in the case of farmers, to not grow crops to keep the prices up.
I were clearly taught that the Good Deal, for all its positives, did not end the Great Depression. This was pretty obvious, really, since the unemployment rate was about as high in 1939 as it had been in 1933. The end was due to the onset of WWII. The US became grand arms seller to the world and everyone had to go to work to produce armaments as quickly as possible. Perhaps they are taught now, in a more "progressive" time for the media, that the New Deal did help economic recovery, without the factor of the war.
Folsom, as I mentioned, was more balanced that I expected. He laid the blame for the recession solely at the foot of Roosevelt's predecessor, Herbert Hoover. He attacked the New Deal policies first as economically unsound because they took money from individuals and corporations, where the money could have been used to expand the company and hire more workers, and turned the funds over to state and local governments, where they often just created make-work jobs directed by vast patronage. Elections were decided by whom got the federal millions. As much as I was supposed to be enraged by the political corruption, at my age I would have been foolish not to expect it. The existence of the New Deal programs might have been the wrong strategy for ending the depression, But the corrupt way in which the programs were run probably were not a factor in their failure. And some good things came out of the New Deal public projects, such as highways, bridges, and schools, when they were well built.
The second thrust of criticism did surprise me. According to this account, Roosevelt himself was in the thick of fighting his political enemies who opposed the programs in which he had so invested himself. Roosevelt was the first president to send the IRS on multi-year audits of his enemies, such as Hearst. He succeeded in sending one of his enemies to prison for three years. He made political appearances for his allies and tried to sabotage the elections of his enemies. He was not only unfaithful to this wife Eleanor, but he would ridicule her in public, counting on the media to not report his words.
There are other accusations. If even half of them were confirmed, it would change my opinion of Roosevelt. As a product of the American aristocracy, I always assumed that, whatever else he might be, he was a man of great integrity. I never envisioned him rolling in the mud with Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.
Looking around for some light fiction to listen to on my walks, I came across Orient Express as part of some Audible promotion. I had never read any Agatha Christie, but since her mysteries have survived the test of time I thought I should at least sample one.
I enjoyed this very much. The plot was decent and I had no clue as to the outcome until very late in the novel. David Suchet's narration was also very entertaining as he had many different accents and temperaments to work with.
I was sufficiently impressed to purchase another of the series, Death on the Nile. I think that this novel had a stronger story.
I'm now on my third, but I don't think I'm a candidate for reading the entire Poirot series. For one thing, the audiobooks are expensive for only about seven hours of entertainment and, in addition, the plots fall into a certain formula that will eventually become tedious.
Clearly a classic deserving its Pulitzer and a very enjoyable listen, except for the squeamish. I found the voice of Gus to be at the same time a fine interpretation yet rather grating to listen to hour after hour. Apparently most of the characters in the novel also found the voice grating.
My real problem with the novel was its ending. The long burial journey of the Captain I thought crossed the line towards absurdity. And I don't understand how so many reviewers were not disturbed by the lack of closure for so many primary characters: Lorena, Clara, Newt, July, Dish. I'm not sure if I understood this correctly, but I believe that the disclosure of their fates was saved for an inferior sequel. If so, this was a mistake. A novel of this size should have been self-contained.
When I purchased this book I was expecting to read a rather light tale of how the US and its deadly enemy Japan had come to know and like each other over the long US occupation. I thought that I would read how the US had generously provided food to the decimated country while working with the Japanese to rebuild it. Soldiers handing out candy to children, the Japanese falling in love with the baseball that we introduced there.
Well, I was 100% wrong. This is a long, dry, scholarly work that doesn't show that the US was so generous to Japan. Chapters devoted to the formation of brothels by the Japanese to serve the Americans when they arrived, wide starvation in the country through the first three or so years of occupation, the flourishing of the black market where all the necessities of living could be found at five to ten times what they were worth, the writing of the new constituion....
Only get this book if you are a scholar interested in this slice of history. Entertaining it is not.
This for me was a bottom three novel of all the classics I have read in my life. I barely managed to get through it by double-speeding through the interminable didactic speeches in the text. And I'm not someone who hates all long, dense novels. I'm a big fan of Henry James.
It is full of one-dimensional caricatures such as Jim Taggert and Hank Rearden. It contains a silly soap opera sex triangle (or is it a quadrangle). The book could have been twenty-five percent shorter if Ms. Rand had kept under control her main literary conceit of hyper-interpretation of her characters' facial expressions.
"Hank looked at Dagny with a smile that suggested deep cynicism. Dagny's gaze revealed only sincerity. Hank leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. As he looked up at Dagny again this time his smile indicated only great warmth. Now Dagny's eyes were narrowed in a show of mild surprise."
Etcetera, etcetera forever.
How could a serious novelist include those real-time speeches of over a half hour at the party and in the courtroom? Nobody at the party or trial ever interrupts them? And that two hour radio address near the end of the novel? Are we to believe that Mr. and Mrs. America would sit immovable at their radios listening attentively to a speech that would have been far over the head of many scholars? Did anyone who so praised this novel actually read through that entire speech attentively?
That leaves the politics. In the fifties the socialism vs. capitalism debate was very relevant and the author did an excellent job, albeit at ridiculous length, of presenting the argument for capitalism. At some future time the argument may again be relevent. This novel may even have contributed to the victory of capitalism. But capitalism has completely defeated socialism at present. Even in CHINA! Who is willing to spend sixty hours listening to an argument that they learned and mostly all accepted years ago in school?
I must, however compliment Ms. Rand on at least one element of the novel. The character of Dagny Taggert is well drawn, multi-dimensional and always interesting. If Ms. Rand had not been saddled with the task of getting her ideology across then she might have written a very decent novel.
So why is Atlas Shrugged so highly praised by so many readers and listeners? I think that it is because the readership has been conditioned to believe that this is a great novel. More than one organization of scholars has named the even more unreadable and unread "Ulysses" as the greatest English novel of the 20th century. Six days a week the Eugene O'Neill theater is standing room only, at an average ticket price of $150, to see the silly and bigoted new musical Book of Mormon. It receives its first audience ovation upon the mere opening of the curtain.
Much like the clothes in the fable "The Emperor's New Clothes," when everyone is told by other self-designated "experts" in the field that a novel or play is great then all those people do not want to appear stupid by disagreeing with their betters.
The first half of this book would be of no interest to anyone except the bible-thumping, evangelical Christians. Progressive Protestant sects and Catholics have accepted for decades the "revelations" that Ehrman discloses. The actual authors of the New Testament is discussed at length in the two most important Catholic bibles. The fact that there are discrepencies in the telling of the same stories in the different Gospels as, for instance, the time in Jesus' ministry that an event occurred, are also obvious to most Christians and are of little significance.
In the second half Ehrman gets down to more meaty matters. Was Jesus God? Did he ever represent himself as God? Did Jesus mean to start a new religion?
I'm undecided on these questions but, not being a Biblical scholar, I have no way of judging the value of Ehrman's arguments. Ehrman, as someone who has left Christianity, cannot possibly be objective. What is needed is an objective presentation of both sides. Ehrman states that many of his friends who agreed with most of Ehrman's interpretation of the New Testament nevertheless remained Christians. A published debate with one of those friends would be of great interest.
I've been a Midway buff for most of my adult life. An incredibly dramatic story that Hollywood should definitely try again to tell after the awful star-filled bomb of 1976. I had read all the books on the American side, all of which relied heavily on Fuchida's book for the Japanese side.
But I had never read (heard) Fuchida's book until now. There is a lot to be learned from it. Japanese over-confidence that led them to cheating on their own war games of the battle. The crazy deployment by Admiral Yamamoto of Japan's enormous naval force. The eyewitness account of the battle itself.
I'm glad that I read it. But if you've been away from World War II naval history for a while, you should know that 2005's Shattered Sword is now the definitive book on the Midway battle. For the Japanese side it relies on testimony of survivors and the translation of many Japanese documents into English for the first time.
And it claims to bust many long-time myths about Midway. For example, that the sacrifice of Torpedo 8 was not in vain because it brought the Japanese fighters down to an altitude where they could not recover in time to intercept the dive bombers. (The dive bombers did not attack until a whole hour after the torpedo strike.) When the American dive bombers struck, the Japanese carrier decks were full of airplanes beginning to take off to attack the American carriers. (The decks were clear of planes at the time, although secondary explosions in the hanger decks doomed the carriers.)
Shattered Sword accuses Fuchida's book of many inaccuracies, calling some of them intentional. The "two-phase" search plan that Fuchida criticizes his commanders for not employing, according to the authors of the new book, was not part of Japanese or American doctrine in 1942.
So listen to Fuchida's book and read Shattered Sword and decide for yourself.
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