The Book Thread - October 2013

Well, lets get the book thread for October rolling.

Currently reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin new-ish translation by Natasha Randall. It was a used bookstore find that I probably would have overlooked if it wasn’t for the intro by Bruce Sterling. Written in Russia after 1917 Revolution, it is apparently the prototype for dystopian totalitarian novels, influencing both Brave New World and 1984.

Read The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett. Not as good as American Elsewhere, but otherwise not a bad book. I’d qualify it as light sci-fi.

I love Robert Jackson Bennet, hated American Elsewhere loved Company Man and really liked Mr Shivers as his best. Really recommend Mr Shivers.

Reading John Dies At The End.

Jeez dude. Spoilers!

I’m about 20% into American Elsewhere based on a recommendation in the September thread, and am liking it. My first Bennet book. What about it didn’t you like?

I’ve read all three and felt Mr. Shivers was his weakest. Not surprising, admittedly. It was his first as far as I know. I wasn’t particularly married to reading any more of his stuff until I tried Company Man and it was significantly better. He’s also put out one called The Troupe I haven’t gotten to yet.

That joke has never been used before…

Reading Word of Honor.

I’d like to read The Troupe, but I just can’t get into anything carnival based after having watched too much bad television based on it. The main show that suffered from it, was that particular season of Heroes with the guy from Prison Break as the head man of the superhero carnival.

Read The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. Enjoyed it a lot. The world is ending with an asteroid hitting the earth sometime soon, and the story focuses on one policeman who is still taking his job seriously.

Read Lowtown by Daniel Polansky. Found it a bit overdone to begin with, but eventually got into it. A fantasy world, with magic and nobles and what-not. Main character is a tough man who is witty (you know cause the author describes him as such), who goes around putting wrongs right, dealing drugs and saving the children.

Read 14 by Peter Clines. A good book with a chtululuu-esque direction it heads in. Not the greatest writing, and it includes lots of gratuitous pop culture references, but otherwise I don’t regret reading it.

Read The Last Policeman 2 by Ben Winters. A bit weaker than book 1, but still readable. Main character is no longer a policeman, but still on the case. Asteroid collision still imminent. Think there’s a third book on the way.

Read Lowtown 2 by Daniel Polansky. Main character “Warden” still toughing it around the slums putting wrongs right while dealing and doing drugs. This held up, and I think it was a little more polished than the first Lowtown book.

Up to book 13 ​Ghost Story in the Dresden Files. Bit of a departure for the series but enjoying it still. Haven’t ploughed through a series like this since the first 4 Game of Thrones books :)

THE ADMIRALS by Walter Borneman

This is a book that while I enjoyed it I think it could have been much more. Borneman basically does biographies of four men, each of who became the nations first 5 star admirals, or Fleet Admirals during WW2. Leahy, Nimitz, King and Halsey. He goes into the lives of each man and gives their naval histories so that you know who they were when WW2 starts and each is thrust into “greatness”. Nimitz and Halsey earned their stars in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. Nimitz as overall commander of the Navy in the Pacific and Halsey as a fleet commander. Strangely enough as well known as Halsey is he is better know for his "mistakes’ and for the battles he missed.

King and Leahy never commanded a fleet during the war. King was essentially the head of the Navy, the equivalent to Gen, George C Marshall. Every Navy move went through Admiral King, and he defined the role.

Leahy was the oldest of the group and found his niche as advisor to FDR. He was probably only second in importance to Harry Hopkins as a military, and later as a foreign advisor to FDR and then to President Truman. I probably knew least about Leahy before reading this book.

The book itself is well written but at 500 pages +/- it seems just to short for the subject, and many events are talked about with too little detail. This book could easily have been 800-1,000 pages. I would recommend it to someone with little knowledge on the subjects, but if you have read about them before you probably won’t learn that much more here.

Well, it’s book-related.

— Alan

I’m about 40% through Doctor Sleep and really enjoying it so far.

Reading Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon. Typically dense and chaotic prose with lots of characters doing their crazy stuff in post-crash Silicon Alley. I’m enormously impressed with his mastery of period tech jargon, though of course he presents it in his usual strange dialog style. For a guy born in 1937, Pynchon clearly has more understanding of Internet tech than most younger authors who write about hackers and code and such, even considering that he is smart enough (so far in the story, 100 pages or so) not to address any technical issues.

The one fault I’d point out has to do with the excessive focus on the “Deep Web” – hardly a fault solely associated with Pynchon these days, given Silk Road. No doubt due to the exciting connotations of secrecy and mystery, the phrase has a magical association for a lot of writers, including tech journalists, when of course all it means is unlinked, unindexed URLs and/or content that requires a form or other UI interaction to access.

I just finished Walter Borneman’s The Admirals also. I think I liked it a little bit more than you, Scuzz, or at least I was satisfied with the length of the book. I went into it thinking that covering WWII in a single volume would be just about impossible. This book focuses on the generation of men that became five-star admirals in WWII and those four admirals in particular. It covers the Pacific and Atlantic strategies, paying more attention to the Pacific as the Navy had more to do there.

Borneman captured the personalities of the 5 Star Four: Leahy, the oldest and wisest, who, towards the end, was FDR’s right hand man. King was a by-the-book martinet. “Bull” Halsey was barely in control of his drinking and temper; sometimes it worked out for him, other times his fellow officers covered for him. Nimitz was the coolest cat of them all. Of the personalities they most frequently came in contact with, there was FDR, fighting and winning the war for the US. There were some other admirals that probably deserved to be on the level of the 5-stars, especially Spruance. Then there were the Army generals, in particular Douglas MacArthur, who came across as the most privileged high school quarterback who ever took his team to State.

I would have liked more detail on the big engagements. The section on the battle of Midway, for instance, didn’t even mention the one thing I knew about it: the lucky American attacks on the Japanese carriers that were full of refueling planes. I also wanted more information on the admirals’ counterparts on the Japanese Navy. (And on a personal note, I was disappointed that the author didn’t even mention my grandpa driving his Higgins boat to the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa!) But I think what Borneman was going for was looking at the strategies that gave rise to those engagements, and the factions within the US armed forces that enabled or prevented them carrying out those strategies. I also appreciated that as he covered the careers of the four admirals, he also covered the evolution of naval technology. Seeing the rise of the carrier and the decline of the battleship made sense, but it also made sense that some admirals would want to hold on to the older technology.

When I was almost through with the book, I bought another copy for my dad. So yeah, I liked The Admirals a lot. It could never be my only source on World War II, but it was very readable and illuminated a particular corner of the war.

I think we pretty much agreed on the book. I think most of the added book I wanted could have been used to explain the battles that in the book are covered by a paragraph or two.

Finished Edward Luttwak’s dual grand oeuvres, Grand Strategy of the Roman & Byzantine Empire. RayTheFourth and Alan Dunkin recommended them here a few months ago. They are indeed excellent, and I’ve composed a lengthy review with a summary of some of the points I found intriguing.

I’m not reading Saga or the new Serenity comics yet because I don’t own either of them, but I wish that I did so I could!