Remarkable Biography Of One Of The Most Influential Men Of The 20th Century. In this, the first biography of John Moses Browning ever written by anyone other than a descendant (and only the second ever written, period), Gorenstein does a truly remarkable job of showing the life, times, and inventions of a man who could arguably be said to be more actually influential on the 20th century than even Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Yes, Edison revolutionized how we are able to see and gave us the truly 24/7 world, and Ford revolutionized both transportation and manufacturing more generally, but Browning revolutionized how we *kill things* – animal or human – and that alone has driven many of the most important issues of the 20th century. It was Browning’s early rifles that may not have won the West – but certainly made it even easier to live there. It was Browning’s (then-Colt) 1911 that is *to this day* one of the most popular types of pistol in the world, over a century after Browning won the competition for the US Army’s new service pistol (a contract it would keep for over 70 years and through both World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War). Indeed, that very model – the Colt 1911 – played a legendary part of the lore of one Lieutenant George S Patton and the first motorized military raid in the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition. In WWII, many infantry units – very likely including both of my grandfathers’ own units – carried up to four different Browning guns into battle, between his 1911, his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and his “Ma Deuce” Browing M2 .50 caliber machine gun.
And Gorenstein does a phenomenal job of showing the development and importance of each, including Browning designing the gas-piston system of modern automatic and semi-automatic rifles *in a single day*. Gorenstein shows how Browning, of truly humble beginnings, designed his first gun from scraps laying around his dad’s engineering and repair shop – just to hunt small game to help feed the family. Gorenstein shows how these humble beginnings played such a role in Browning not even really beginning to invent until at or beyond the age when others in more academic professions say genius decays – and how this “lost decade” played such a role in Browning’s later drive and inventiveness.
It doesn’t matter what you think of how Browning’s designs and their derivatives over the last 100+ years have been used. You know about Edison, or can. You know about Ford, or can. You deserve to educate yourself about this genius as well, if only to learn the lessons of his genius. And this book is the very first time you really can. Very much recommended.
And here are (most of) the guns in question, just to show how truly prolific this amazing man was.
This review of The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein was originally written on March 27, 2021.
Dense Yet Enlightening. This is a book about the history of the philosophical and legal thoughts and justifications for transitioning from the brutal and bloody wars of the 19th century (when the history it covers begins) through to the “more humane” but now seemingly endless wars as currently waged, particularly by the United States of America. As in, this treatise begins with examinations of Tolstoy and Von Clauswitz during the Napoleonic Wars and ends with the Biden Presidency’s early days of the continuation of the drone wars of its two predecessors. Along the way, we find the imperfections and even outright hypocrisies of a world – and, in the 21st century in particular, in particular a singular nation on the ascendancy, the United States – as it struggles with how best to wage and, hopefully, end war. Moyn shows the transition from a mindset of peace to a mindset of more palatable (re: “less” horrific / “more” humane) perma-war. But as to the description’s final point that this book argues that this might not be a good thing at all… yes, that point is raised, and even, at times, central. But the text here seems to get more in depth on the history of documenting the change rather than focusing in on the philosophical and even legal arguments as to why that particular change is an overall bad thing. Ultimately this is one of those esoteric tomes that those with a particular interest in wars and how and why they are waged might read, if they are “wonks” in this area, but probably won’t have the mass appeal that it arguably warrants. The central premise is a conversation that *needs* to be had in America and the world, but this book is more designed for the think tank/ academic crowd than the mass appeal that could spark such conversations. Still, it is truly well documented and written with a high degree of detail, and for this it is very much recommended.
This review of Humane by Samuel Moyn was originally written on May 5, 2021.
Visceral. When you start off at one of WWII’s most infamous defeats (of the Allies) at Dunkirk and go right into one of its lesser known war crimes (the slaughter of nearly 100 British soldiers at Le Paradis), you know this is going to be one *intense* book. And it is. Here, Lane uses a British nurse and two French sisters to tell a tale of survival during the war’s early years, when Germany seemingly could not be defeated. The way she tells it reads as some of the most gripping suspense (arguably even horror, without the supernatural elements often part of that genre) I’ve yet come across in tales of this era – and indeed, even in most other tales, period. From the opening chapters where the Germans attack through the closing chapters (other than the extended epilogue), Lane never really gives these characters – and thus, the reader – any real sense of calm or safety. The Germans are always *right there*, in mind if not in body, and the threat of capture and execution – or worse – is never far from anyones’ thoughts. Releasing just one week before the 81st anniversary of the events it fictionalizes, this is easily one of the best books of Summer 2021, particularly for those looking for dark/ suspense tales. Very much recommended.
This review of The Secrets We Left Behind by Soraya M Lane was originally written on May 1, 2021.
Engaging Account Of Oft Overlooked Era. The period between D-Day (and the summer of 1944 generally) and the Battle of the Bulge (again, and winter 1944-45 generally) is one of the more overlooked eras of WWII, particularly in the zeitgeist of at minimum Americans. (I cannot speak to what Europeans think/ know, as I’ve never been closer to that continent than off the coast of the State of New Hampshire.) Here, King sets out to tell the tales of this overlooked period via numerous first hand accounts and other sources, showing through the eyes of the people that were there what was happening and through the other sources of history what was going on around those events. This is one of those books that will serve as a wakeup call to those who romanticize this particular war and these particular soldiers, as King makes the point quite well – and repeatedly – that given the pervasive and frequent abuses from *all* sides, there truly were truly few innocents involved in any angle of this, certainly of the adult (and even teenager/ young adult) variety. Even knowing that both of my grandfathers were there among some of these very events (both would survive the Bulge itself), I find King’s prose and commentary compelling here. He does a tremendous job of truly showing just how horrific this period was on *everyone* involved, not just the soldiers and not just the victims of the Holocaust – though he does indeed cover many of the horrors both of those groups saw in this period as well. Truly an outstanding book, and one anyone interested in WWII needs to read. Very much recommended.
This review of Driving Back The Nazis by Martin King was originally written on April 25, 2021.
This week we’re looking at a remarkable and rare blending of the historical fiction and women’s fiction genres. This week we’re looking at You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham.
If you’ve read very many of my reviews on WWII historical fiction books at all, you know it is a subject that has long fascinated me due to my own personal family history there – both grandfathers were at the Battle of the Bulge, one got a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions there, the other was in the area (at minimum) when the Americans liberated the first concentration camps on their front of the war. And the dichotomy of what I knew of those two men decades later – one (concentration camp) whose lifespan my own intersected with by 5 weeks, the other who I knew for the last 20 years of his life – has become a long running, simmering thread in my own tale.
And without further ado… the Goodreads review. 🙂
Long Buried Family Secrets Find Closure. Here, we get an interesting spin on this oft-travelled subject and technique. So many books of this genre want to take place primarily in the past with only the occasional jump to the future (ala Titanic), but here Graham sticks remarkably close to alternating every single chapter past and present. The past storyline is, perhaps, a touch more urgent, as it involves hiding a brother and trying to smuggle him out of France in 1941. But the present storyline has more of the “women’s fiction” elements of a woman trying to find herself after the tragic loss of her grandmother soon after the loss of her significant other and business partner… and stumbling across things about her grandmother that had never been known in the family, which leads to her quest and ultimately the resolution of both timelines. Both timelines worked quite well, and it is indeed rare to see a single book blend elements of the two distinct genres together so effectively – which speaks to just how good Graham is. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a stunning tale set in a (now) very famous time and place that is so vivid that you’ll be looking up fictional characters to see if they were real. This week we’re looking at The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.
As always, the Goodreads review:
Wow. All the feels. I make no secret that Alan Turing is a personal hero. He is *very* much suspected of being a fellow Autistic, and because of his brilliance I was able to follow in his footsteps to rise myself out of being a trailer park kid into a career that has already made me far more successful than I ever dared imagine. So when a book is set at Bletchley Park during World War II – where Turing built the first physical “Turing Machines” after having theorized them before the war – … it gets my attention.
And while Turing himself (along with a handful of other particularly significant real-world people of the era) *does* appear in the book – and even helps in the endgame itself – this book is NOT about him. Instead, this is effectively a book about the *other* people there at Bletchley during the period and what *they* went through… while spinning a tight tale of personal and national betrayals as a solid fiction story should. 🙂 We see the era and the place through three very different eyes – a likely (female) Autistic (though Quinn never uses that word to describe the character, as it wouldn’t be period-authentic) who is over-protected by her very religious parents (gee, where does *that* feel familiar? 😉 ), a poor, down on her luck girl from the “wrong side of the tracks” just trying to get by and become better than her birth (again, where does this seem familiar? :D), and a well-connected socialite who wants to prove that she is more than just her birth. And we see how friendship and even family can grow between such disparate people. Truly an outstanding work that hooks you from Chapter 1 and keeps you reading through the final words… even though those words come over 650 pages later! Oh, and if you’re familiar with The Imitation Game (the 2014 movie focusing on Turing’s work at BP)… you may just have its theme running through your head when you finish this tale. Very much recommended.
ATypical WWII Novel. In several ways, this is a typical WWII romance-ish novel, maybe of a Russian kind (ie, hard times all over the place, can be seen as depressing at times, yet ultimately a story of survival and love). In many other ways, this is a very *atypical* WWII novel. For one, it doesn’t take place in the more common Western Europe setting, but instead mostly in Soviet forced labor camps. For another, well, the whole “Soviet” thing doesn’t get seen too much in Western WWII historical fiction novels. And finally, this is actually directly based on the real-world travails of the author’s grandparents, making it the first time I’ve seen a novel of the type I myself hope to write someday. Overall truly a tremendous work, and very much recommended.
This review of On The Wings Of Hope by Ella Zeiss was originally written on November 30, 2020.
Strong WWII-Europe Tale Featuring Not-Usually-Featured Personnel. This was a solid tale of the trials and tribulations of a job in WWII-Europe that doesn’t really get featured much in the discussions – written war correspondents, and particularly the few females who had enough balls to force themselves into such roles. Lane does a superb job at dropping us into the action at famous and infamous points and showing the side of the war she wants to feature rather than the more well known stories – including a seemingly-unreal-yet-actually-real story of one particular female war correspondent who did, in fact, hide herself on a hospital ship and thus become the *only* correspondent – of either gender – to see the events of D-Day unfold with her own unaided eyes. (Yes, Lane fictionalizes even that event, but a real-life version *did* actually happen.) Indeed, my only real complaint here was that I wanted to have Lane have her photojournalist do something in Sicily involving Patton (and his subsequent sidelining by Supreme Commander Eisenhower) that apparently no real photographs exist of. Which makes sense that Lane couldn’t then have her character do something that is in fact documented as having never happened. 😉 Ultimately a great story of some very brave women and the very real decisions that would have had to have been made by real-life versions of these characters. Very much recommended.
This review of The Last Correspondent by Soraya M Lane was originally written on October 23, 2020.
This week we’re looking back at one of the most monstrous events in human history. This week we’re looking back on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, on its 75th anniversary through the lens of Fallout by Lesley MM Blume.
Fallout is not the story of the Hiroshima bombing, but of the coverup of its true horrific effects – and one man’s efforts to uncover them. Fallout is the story of the expose Hiroshima, written by John Hersey and published in The New Yorker on August 31, 1946. As Fallout cites the essay heavily while telling the story of how it came to be, and since The New Yorker’s website currently has the essay free to view at least as of the writing of this post in late June 2020, I very much recommend you take a moment to go read the original essay. It really is as powerful as Blume describes, and truly deserves its story being told.
Blume does the singular most remarkable job I’ve ever seen in a nonfiction book in at least one way: Nearly 40% of the text of the ARC I read of this book was bibliography. In my experience, a seemingly comprehensive bibliography averages closer to 25% to 33% of the text of a nonfiction book. Though at least in my ARC edition, the notes were not referenced in the actual text. It is unknown at this time if that was intentional or if that will be fixed prior to publication, but the effect was that it made the story flow much easier without the constant footnote references, so perhaps it is a great thing that they were listed but not directly referenced.
Blume also has a knack for the narrative, and does a remarkable job of keeping what could be a dense and complicated issue taut yet crystalline. Reading this book really gives the sense of being there and searching for the truth, yet also having the hindsight to know which passages and influences will ultimately bare out in the annals of history. Her passion for this particular essay, the history of it, and the history it describes, becomes abundantly clear almost from the first words of this effort.
Hiroshima was an absolutely critical essay for every American to read, understand, and internalize, and Blume’s work here detailing the history of how it came to be should be read right alongside Hersey’s original essay. Very much recommended.
And as always, the Goodreads review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: Fallout by Lesley MM Blume”
Slightly Misleading Title, Solid History. If you’re looking for a history of the actual Doolittle Raid… this isn’t it. Instead, this focuses on the 1946 war crimes trial of the Japanese officials implicated in murdering four of the Raiders after their capture in China following the raid in 1942 and subsequent conviction in a kangaroo court. But for what it is, this is truly a remarkable story that brings to life a part of history I personally had never so much as heard about. Paradis notes in the afterword that upon researching what was originally supposed to be a more straightforward legal analysis, he realized that he needed to change the focus to be a historical narrative fit for a wider audience, and in that new goal this reader can confirm that he did particularly well. Yes, Paradis is a miliary lawyer historian by trade, and this particular background comes through quite blatantly in the text, but it is never so full of jargon from any of those parts of his background as to be incomprehensible to the wider audience only cursorily aware of those subjects. Very much recommended.
This review of Last Mission To Tokyo by Michel Paradis was originally written on July 5, 2020.