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The Mask Of Command — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Mask Of Command” (1987©), written by John Keegan.  Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (Order of the British Empire) and FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) was an English military historian, lecturer (at Sandhurst – the English equivalent of West Point) and writer.  Keegan is considered (in my opinion) one of the “modern” expert military historians. I understand his basic premise to be that conflict in general and war in specific is cultural and not necessarily an extension of political governance.  This is in contrast with Clausewitz who stated that war is politics by other means.  Keegan is criticized for “disagreement” with Clausewitz.
As a secondary aside, I started reading about military theory (“strategy”) back in my early 20’s when I began reading about generals (mostly Patton) and the works of B. H. Liddell Hart were recommended to me by a roommate.  I read Liddell Hart’s book: “Strategy: The Indirect Approach“, which I must say greatly influenced my life by profoundly changing my view of the world.  My hope was to learn about leadership by studying the great generals.  Instead, what I found was that leadership is not the same thing as strategy and is, instead, founded on the person and the time in history the person lives, whereas strategy tends to be principled and more timeless.
This realization pretty much ties into the basis for this book, which is a study of four “great” commanders / leaders and looks at what made three succeed and one (ultimately) fail terribly.  The three successful commanders are: Alexander the Great, Wellington, and U.S. Grant.  The failure is: Hitler.
Keegan’s proposal in this book is based on “heroic” aspects (“title”) of military leadership: heroic, anti-heroic, non-heroic, and fake heroic.  To do this, Keegan establishes the cultural climate of each commander and then tries to explain it’s (the culture’s) effect on the military leader via their proximity to combat and personal exposure to danger.  Essentially, for most of man’s history, muscle and physical courage were the requirement of military leadership.  As the age of gunpowder emerged, the risk to the commander increased and they were forced to withdrawal from danger and thus “military” leadership changed.  Alexander had to fight hand-to-hand to prove his courage while leading from the front; Wellington could stay within sight of his forces, but had to stay a minimal distance from accurate musket range; Grant could not frequently approach the front lines; and, Hitler never exposed himself to physical danger (with the exception of possible assassination) and used propaganda to convince his forces that he was a soldier battling at their side.
The book has five main chapters (one for each leader / type) and the last is about leadership in the age of nuclear weapons.  I found this the most fascinating (timely?) chapter of the book as it proposes a “new” type of post-heroic military / political leader and attempts to posit President Kennedy as this “ideal” leader.
While I found the book to be an interesting (sometimes fascinating) read, it was not an easy read.  Keegan loves his erudite words and his complicated phrasing of sentences.  The punctuation is “British” (I guess), and I found many times I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph to figure out what the heck he was talking about.  Frequently, his sentences appeared to be declarative, but were, in fact, interrogatory (questions), or vice-versa, and you (“I”) couldn’t tell until you (“I”) hit the question mark or period at the end of the sentence.  Occasionally, even though I was aware of this writing style, Keegan still caught me off guard and I had to go back and try to figure out what he was on about.  Which means I knew it was happening, and anticipating it, but continued to find it distracting.
Other than this (quibble), I found the book to be quite enjoyable.  Keegan has a keen method of describing battles and you can sometimes feel yourself seeing the carnage and tasting the spent gunpowder in the air.  At less than 400 pages, it seems also to be a quick read, but I suggest not rushing head-long through it in one or two sittings as the book is widely considered to be a classic and deserves a bit of contemplation as well as enjoyment.
Final recommendation: highly recommended! This book is a classic for a reason…  The battlefield descriptions are superb and Keegan’s argument is well presented – even if not wholly convincing (to me, anyway).  Still, regardless if you are new to military history or a veteran of any military genre, I think you’ll enjoy this book.  There will, of course, be a few quotes from this book appearing on my blog in the coming weeks / months.
Two final thoughts: 1) I was not (am not) convinced President Kennedy is THE model for the post-heroic commander.  I found Keegan’s reporting on / analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis a bit simplistic.  And, 2) even if I had read this book on first printing, I doubt it would have influenced my world-view the way Liddell Hart’s book did.  Both are classics for any military reader, just different.  Just sayin’…
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On This Day In:
2019 #ContinueToResist
Except Willful Ignorance And Prideful Stupidity
2018 More Executive Time For #DumbDonald
2017 Watched The Inauguration
Two Geniuses
2016 Come Dance And Laugh With Me
2015 Looks Good To Me
2014 Desire For The Sea
2013 The Fierce Urgency Of NOW
Happy Inauguration Day!
2012 One Path
Sorrow And Joy
The Seven Year View
2011 Emergent Practicality

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David And Goliath”  (2013©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for non-fiction “popularized science” / sociology genre book” “David And Goliath“, written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Gladwell, Steven Levy and James Gleick are my favorite three “modern” “pop”-science writers, so I have a natural inclination to review this book favorably.  (Of course, my “All-time” favorite for this genre is Isaac Asimov, who could explain almost anything to the common reader – and with over 500 books to his name, he certainly tried.)
Anyway, as stated, I was (am) predisposed to a favorable review.  And, I’m giving it that…
It’s not a “great” book and it didn’t make me feel like I just hit myself on the side of the head (“Wow!!).  But, with Gladwell, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you hand over your dosh.  One, two or three observations about human behavior, a bit of socio- / psychological support (a few facts to support the point and not much to contradict the point) to bolster the observations, and then a bit of storytelling to make Gladwell’s conclusion seem more palatable.  Generally, if you “want” to agree with Gladwell’s observations you won’t look too closely at the support, because, heck, you already agree.  Right?  And if you are not predisposed to agree, Gladwell offers almost twenty pages of “Notes” for further research.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble, you probably have some subject matter expertise and don’t need to read a “popularized science” book on this topic.   Do you?
Per his normal format, Gladwell breaks the book into three main sections:
1) The advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages);
2) The theory of desirable difficulty; and,
3) The limits of power.
Amplifying the observations:
1)  Underdogs win more that we (the average reader) would expect – in some specific categories as much as 30%.  Why?  Because we see our disadvantages as their disadvantages, when they (the underdogs) don’t.  And, if they don’t see themselves as underdogs, they have no incentive to quit before they even try to succeed.
2)  Sometimes disadvantages turn out to be advantages and vice versa.  Great schools and small class sizes don’t necessarily produce the best employees or academics.  Gladwell introduces the idea of a inverted U shaped graph to explain this phenomena.
3)  People with challenges (dyslexia, early family tragedy, ADHD) can still become very successful.  Sometimes / somehow the “challenges” early in life prepare them better than their peers for challenges later in life, so they are “ready” when the real life test happens.  And,
4)  You can never “really” know how people will react when they are placed under pressure.  You generally, expect them to fold (because we believe we would, too), but sometimes they exceed your expectations.
My reaction to all of this?  Yes, it may all be true, but how do you build a society around the observation / hypothesis?  With no controls, you have observations, but you cannot test hypothesis.  And, if you could create similar situations, is it ethical to do so?  …For a hundred people, just so five or ten or thirty percent can overcome them?  What does society say to the others who don’t overcome and become super-achievers?  We’re sorry we ruined your life, but we wanted to see if you were “destined” to be elite.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  The book presents some interesting ideas and promotes thought by the reader.  (It certainly made me think!)  It successfully brings academic observations to the masses by means of popular writing.  However, in the end, I was left feeling neither individuals nor the government have the ability (or wisdom) to use power effectively in attempting to control the actions of others.  But for me, making me think is enough to prompt me to recommend the book.
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On This Day In:
2018 Still More Prejudice
A Well Trod Path Of Hopes, Expectations And Surprise
2017 …And With It Civilization
2016 Just Like My Mother
2015 All Omissions Are Mine
2014 Precise Order
2013 Uh, No. Not Really…
Deep Regions
2012 A Pre-Valentine’s Day Message
2011 Easy Like Sunday Morning
May I Have A Little More, Please…
2010 Valleys and Peaks

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (2000©)  —  book review
Who hasn’t day-dreamed of writing the “great American novel” and becoming wealthy and celebrated?  Okay, maybe not me in over 40 years, but still…
Today’s book review is for “On Writing“, by Stephen King.  Yes, that Stephen King.  The horror novelist / writer.  Well, actually, he does write in other genres, too, but that’s the one I know him for.  This book came recommended to me by various sources – some “best of” lists and also a couple of blogs / sites I follow.  I found it on sale for $3 at my local Half-Price Books store, so I snatched it up.
The book is basically a three-part tome: King’s life leading up to writing, how to write well, and finally, advice on life and how to get started getting your writing published.  Part one is extremely interesting and amusing.  I got several belly laughs out of it.  Part two is mundane, yet (probably) useful.  I have already begun applying some of King’s suggestions in my own writing here on this blog.  Part three will probably be useful if I ever (again) imagine myself sitting down to write the great American novel or autobiography.  One of King’s recommendations is to write about what you know.  I’m afraid the only thing I know the most about is me.  (Sad, but true.)
So, final recommendation: very highly recommended!  Is this the finest book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Yes!  With the qualification it is also the only book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Having said that, it is a fast read at less than 300 pages and I found it enjoyable and informative.  And, of course, multiple quotes will appear on this blog in the future…
One last mention: King recommends all wanna-be writers start off by reading Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style“.  (According to part 1 in the book, King is a former high school English teacher.  Go, figure.)  Fortunately, for cheapskates like me, the book (“Elements“) is out of copyright and you can find it in pdf format at multiple locations on the web.  At fewer than 30 pages, it should also be a quick read.  The book cover on Amazon looks very familiar, so maybe King’s book is the second book I’ve read on writing.  LOL…  I probably read “Elements” in high school and blotted the contents out of my memory.
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On This Day In:
2017 Summer Pale
2016 Ain’t It Funny
2015 At Both Ends
2014 Whiner(s)
2013 Just Passing Through
2012 Dog-gone Heaven
2011 Occasional, Sad Results

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Will Rogers Says…”  —  book review
Will Rogers Says…” (1993©) is a book of quotations edited by Dr. Reba Collins who was the Director Emeritus of the Will Rogers Memorial and Research Center.  The book is small and short (barely 86 pages with photos), and it is also (obviously) both as very fast read and a very funny / amusing read.
Final recommendation: Highly Recommended!!  If you like social and political commentary, you will love this book.  I will, of course, be posting many of the quotes contained in this handy reference to plain spoken American humor.  LOL.
Two samples:
1)  Being serious, or being a good fellow, has got nothing to do with running this country, if the breaks are with you, you could be a laughing hyena and still have a great administration.
2)  Washington, D.C. papers say:  “Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.”  I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this country.
[And thus Rogers presages the Trump Administration’s “booming” Stock Market and the Republican majority “Civil War” in Congress despite complete control of all three branches of the Federal Government.  Just saying…  —  KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2016 She Is Still Singing
2015 Don’t Complain
2014 Nothing Is The Same
Orange October (XII) – Giants Win Game 7 (3 To 2) And World Series (4 To 3)
2013 Hours, Days, And Years
2012 In Kev Are In Hil
2011 No Game, Didn’t Really Happen
A Good Post

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Book Review: “Running Blind
Today’s book review is “Running Blind” (2000©) written by Lee Child.  This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher action / mystery series.  In this episode, Reacher is co-opted by the FBI to help them solve a serial murder case.  The case seems to be related to the military, hence the need to involve a former officer in the Military Police.
By “related” I mean the murders involve females who were sexually harassed while in the military.  The initial “perp” profile indicates it “might” be someone like Reacher because blah, blah, blah and he handled a bunch of these cases while he was in the service.   If fact, he is detained by the FBI because he seems to be a likely suspect.  He worked on the cases of a couple of the victims, so he seems to be a common thread.
The story follows what is becoming the standard story for this series: Reacher is dragged into something, he goes from being an unwilling participant to being a willing participant to being the brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” and solving the mystery at the end.  The problem with the series remains: there are already twenty plus books in the series and this is only number four, so there can be no personal tension, no matter how much the author tries to create a build-up.  We know he is going to live to be in the next book.
Having said this, the book is a good, fast read even though it felt longer than the earlier books in the series.  It weighs in at 519 pages in my paperback version.  If there is one difference in this episode, it is that we have a continuation of the story arc from the last book.  That arc is his love interest and the house he inherits from the father of the love interest.  Let’s just say, Reacher is a rolling stone, and leave it at that.  It is interesting because it is the first hint the books are not 100% stand-alone stories.  Does it “matter” in the grand scheme of things?  Not particularly.  Just interesting.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  It is a good story, but I knew who the real perp was before the big resolution at the end of the book.  I didn’t know the how or the why, but I had pretty good ideas.  As an aside, I was expecting a super-twist at the end.  It didn’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I was a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m still looking forward to reading more books in the series.
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On This Day In:
2016 There Is A Difference Between Dangerous And Frightening
2015 Always A Goal
2014 Standing Strong
2013 Shaken And Stirred
The Bird With The Broken Wing
2012 Friends In High Places
2011 Objective Independence

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Casca #6: The Persian – book review
This volume is number six in the “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary” book series.  “Casca #6: The Persian” (1982©) was written by Barry Sadler.  For those of you who haven’t read my other reviews, Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus of Nazareth while he was being crucified.  Just before dying, Jesus tells Casca that he is happy in his role and that he will remain the same until they meet again.  Each volume tells some of Casca’s life over the last two thousand years as he awaits the second coming of Jesus.
Because Casca doesn’t age, every 20 or 30 years he must travel to avoid questions about why he doesn’t seem to get older.  In a prior volume (number 3), Casca was in China.  In this, he is returning to the West and pauses to deliver a message from the emperor of China to the King of the Persians warning of impending attacks from the Huns.  Casca falls into service for the King (Shapur II) and this covers the few years of that service.
This episode has two interesting sub-stories (for me).  The first involves a re-enactment of a battle tactic Casca first saw in China.  As the enemy advances, you have a line of “volunteers” step forward and cut their throats in front of the enemy.  This is said to surprise and then terrify the Hun warriors.  They turn to flee and are then defeated in detail as they try to retreat / run away.  Casca relates this tactic to Shapur who decides he wants to try it and see if it works.  He sends Casca out with an under-manned force, but with several times the number of “volunteers” as the Chinese used.  The tactic works again and Casca is able to defeat the Huns even though out-numbered by several times his own force.
The second sub-story is about Casca’s “curse”.  Because he cannot be killed, each volume has a point where the miracle / curse must be demonstrated.  In prior stories, Casca has been drowned, buried alive, poisoned, fed to crabs and had his heart cut out and one hand completely cut off.  In this episode, the king judges Casca to have become too popular with the army so he decides to trump up some charges of treason and then have Casca burned alive.  Of course Casca survives, but the execution and recovery are explained in graphic detail.  As a reader, you almost feel you are sharing Casca’s pain.
There is a third story-line which also ties back to the earlier Chinese episode, but I’ve already given too much of the story away.  Final recommendation: another strong recommendation.
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On This Day In:
2014 Hey, I Resemble That Remark… (4!)
2013 Sit, Put, Until…
2012 Lessons For My Son
2011 Reaching The Right Audience
2010 Christmas Trees and Profession of Faith

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West Of Honor – book review
Today’s review is for “West Of Honor” (1978©), written by Jerry Pournelle.  Pournelle is a famous Science Fiction writer who not only wrote great individual novels, he also wrote story lines which spanned several books – much like Robert Heinlein’s “Lazarus Long” story / timeline.  In Pournelle’s case, the premise is that the United States and the Soviet Union come together to form a “CoDominium” to 1) control the Earth and the exploration of space; and, 2) maintain their relative positions in the “new” age of space exploration.  The “future” is strangely both dystopian and optimistic.  Dystopian in that surplus population is forced into space (as cheap labor) and optimistic as some of the planets manage to build workable civilizations.  The faster than light Alderson stardrives used in the book / series “was” invented in 2004 and first used to go beyond the solar system in 2008.  LOL!!  So far, not even close…
The main character in the time-line is a “Napoleonic” figure named John Christian Falkenberg.  This book is the story of Falkenberg’s pacification of a planet.  The story is told as a first person narrative by one of Falkenberg’s junior officers – Hal Slater.  This really is a “good, old-fashioned” modern war story which just happens to take place on another planet.  You read about planetary politics, military (and medical) technology and all that, but in the end war comes down to men bleeding and dying.  To the extent Pournelle is able to convince you to believe the technology, you buy the SciFi.  To the extent he convinces you to believe in the battles and the drama, you buy the war story.  I “bought into” both and enjoyed the book tremendously.  Interestingly, victory does not necessarily lead to a “happy” ending.
Full disclosure: I first read this book back in the early 1980’s.  I also read a number of other books in the series, but I no longer have those.  I’m not sure how or when I lost them, but I suppose it was when we moved to Liverpool (or back).  In any case, I’m probably going to end up re-buying them and re-reading them.  Final recommendation: highly recommended!!  Particularly if you like SciFi Military Lit.
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On This Day In:
2014 Sources
2013 Three Essentials
2012 Just Looking
2011 Religious Lessons
2010 View From Under The Bus… (A mid-term report card on the Obama Administration. Long, but still worth reading for historical perspective.)

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