Book Notes V

The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire by A. Wess Mitchell (B) – Pretty much exactly what it says in the title.  An interesting book, though assuredly far, far more interesting for someone who was more into strategy in general or had more basic familiarity with 18th and 19th century European politics than I, who am fairly middling on both. So…it was fine?

Metternich: Strategist and Visionary by Wolfram Siemann (B) – Sticking with the Habsburgs, and my reaction is similar to the previous book: interesting enough, I’m sure this would be an excellent read for someone who is very interested in the life of one of the most important statesmen in history.  I only sort of am.  Thus, I found it a little over-detailed, definitely over-interested in hashing out scholarly debates about which I have no idea or interest whatsoever,  and mildly sluggish after the defeat of Napoleon.  Definitely not in my upper-tier of biographies, but more because of my lack of interest in the subject matter than a deficiency within the book itself.  I probably would have preferred a 300 page version far more.

Remains by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole – The 14th book in a pulpy military sci-fi series I enjoy.  Precisely the sort of thing you should be reading as a palate cleanse after a 900 page book on Metternich.  If I have one complaint about the series, it’s that there’s a really dense web of connections, references, bit characters, callbacks, and Easter eggs that’s developed over the books, and I definitely feel like I’m missing a good bit of the story because I’m not doing a full re-read before each entry in the series.  Still, the whole thing is fun, the authors do an excellent job of having excitement build throughout the book (they may be one of the best at this I’ve ever encountered, it’s very hard to put down the last 100 pages of any of their books). If you enjoy action heavy gung-ho military sci-fi, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the series.

The Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger (S) – A brutally lyrical account of World War I. Maybe my favorite war memoir of all time, written by a genuine hero who happens also to be a literary genius.   Non-stop action, incredibly violent, terrifying.  A book I’d recommend to everyone who is even mildly interested in the genre, really a great, though extremely intense, read.

1491 by Charles Mann (C) – Frustrated me greatly.  On one hand, there was some very interesting (word of the day) info here on pre-Columbian Indian society.  I’m broadly sympathetic to multiple parts of the author’s thesis, that this society was considerably more developed than we imagine, that the Indians are worth taking seriously as historical peoples who had many impressive accomplishments and remapped their landscape in fascinating and impressive ways. 

On the other hand, Mann seems compelled to make ludicrous assertions about the degree of those accomplishments in some sort of desperate attempt to avoid acknowledging any sort of superiority on the part of the Europeans. 

Just an example to illustrate, he suggests that tribes on the coast of New England were not that far behind the European colonists technologically because:

  • Canoes are faster and more maneuverable than a dory the pilgrims brought with them (Mann doesn’t dwell on the fact that said dory was launched from a ship capable of trans-oceanic voyages)
  • Native longbows were in some ways superior to the guns of the initial colonists (yes, if only Englishmen had recognized the virtues of the longbow)

It’s just ludicrous and badly undercuts the otherwise very well made case for his overall thesis.  I had real difficulty getting past it.  I also didn’t enjoy his little narrative asides about various scholars discovering this or that fact.  They didn’t capture my interest at all–scholars are boring–and I kept finding myself skipping ahead to get to the actual meat of their findings.  Sad waste of potential on a worthy topic. 

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