Comprehensive History. This tome – and yes, at 600+ pages of dense yet readable text, “tome” certainly applies – is easily the most comprehensive history of guns and firepower I’ve ever come across. Covering nearly 600 or so years from the mid 15th century’s initial adoption of guns in scale to medieval Europe (thus breaking the hold of the pikemen) to their ultimate forms in WWII era Europe and the beginning of the age of rocketry, this book covers all of the great innovations in all level of firearms from small arms to artillery to naval and, finally, air, cannons. Those looking for exacting details on particular developments will probably want to look for more specific books about the particular development you’re interested in, but as an overview of the field, this book truly does a phenomenal job of showing the various developments of firearms and how they shifted the way nations make war – thus shifting the very way nations work, period. All of the high points most anyone who knows anything about guns knows are here, and there is actually quite a bit here that this reader – who generally considers himself decently well-versed in history – had never heard of, such as the naval battle at Turkey in the middle of the 19th century that saw the first heavy use of explosive shot and thus signaled the beginning of the end of the wooden naval ship. Utterly fascinating work, if long. Still, truly very much recommended.
(Mostly) Solid Examination Of History And Current Events. This is a fairly well documented – nearly 100 pages of its 400 are bibliography, *in addition to* at least a few paragraphs of footnotes at the end of every chapter – examination of both the history and current events of why both commercial and military control of the oceans is so important to human advancement. Some of the facts presented are truly mind-boggling, such as the sheer size of the Maersk Madrid – a ship used as a recurring case study, where if its full load of possible shipping containers were transported in a standard 2-high rail configuration, the train just to load this singular ship would stretch for *78 miles*. Others are more “standard fare” for most anyone who knows anything about the history of ocean travel or oceanography. Still, the book is current through March 2021, which is remarkable considering that I acquired this ARC in early June 2021. A must-read on a wide variety of issues from the complexities of modern logistics to the root cause and practical implications of modern military struggles to even the loss of American manufacturing jobs and the rise of Donald Trump, this book shows how control of the oceans has impacted all of these topics and many, many more. Really the only more “YMMV” section is the emphasis on global warming/ global cooling / climate change/ whatever they’re calling it these days alarmism in the final section, but even here there are enough actual facts to warrant close examination. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at an interesting look at race relations in the South by an author who was raised in the South yet lives deep within Yankee country now. This week we’re looking at What’s Left Unsaid by Emily Bleeker.
Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:
Solid Work of Fiction. This is a difficult one. There is *so much* “white people are evil” “racial discussion” through the first 2/3 of the book that at the time it looked like it would be my first *ever* 4* review for this author (and I’ve reviewed *all* of her prior books, either after publication or, as in this case, as advance reader copies). That noted, it *did* have a couple of moments of calling out the white guilt in ways I’ve often wanted to scream myself. Between these moments and the back third largely dropping these discussions in favor of more deeply diving into the substance of the tale at hand, the latest 5* review was indeed saved, as the story overall is in fact that strong – particularly that back third, when the various discussions and plot threads are woven together quite remarkably… and explosively. Indeed, while it is not known if the *exact* resolution of everything is real, one could very easily imagine it being so. I read for escapism, and if you’re looking for that particular goal in the current environment… maybe wait a few years to read this one. But realize that this one was effectively finished (minus the polishing and publication mechanics) right as the race wars of the summer of 2020 were exploding, which alone provides a degree of context for much of those discussions. Overall a truly strong book for what it is, and still very much recommended.
And for the first time in a very long time, I actually have some additional commentary here. 😀
Emily is a long time Facebook friend. Indeed, a lot of the areas I now work heavily in within the ARC world, she was the one that got me into the early steps of. I had read her debut book, WRECKAGE, years ago and LOVE it, and when she posted about an opportunity to join up with an ARC group for her publisher, I jumped on it. But she and I have had *dramatically* different experiences with race in the South, even as white adults of a similar age (+/- just 5 yrs or so). This book is actually based in part on letters uncovered in her own family research there in the actual town in Mississippi she places the book in, and the book is what she saw growing up.
But for me, my own formative years as a Child of the South were truly *extremely* different. Right around the time I was reading this book – and likely why I had such a strong reaction to it those weeks ago – I found out that my former elementary school Principal had died seemingly unknown in a minor one car accident on a somewhat back road in my hometown – the very day of the Atlanta Spa Shootings that grabbed national headline among accusations of racism. What is significant here is my own relationship with that man, Mr. Ralph Lowe, in particular. Mr. Lowe was a black teacher in the exurbs outside of Atlanta in the late 1970s, when he would become one of my dad’s high school teachers. A few years later, he was my own elementary school Principal, and just given the era had to be among the first – possibly *the* first – of his race to hold that title in that school system. But despite being active in causes and boards seeking to genuinely help his people – often quietly/ without media attention – throughout his life, and despite being of an age when he or his siblings likely actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lowe demanded one thing and one thing only: That everyone treat him with the respect of his position, but otherwise exactly as they would anyone else. This was a point my dad emphasized himself emphatically in one memorable situation where I don’t remember what exactly I did to cause it (though I know that given the era, I did in fact do *something*), but dad – a product of his own era and location – made it *crystal* clear that I was to respect and obey Mr. Lowe just as much as I did my dad himself. In another foundational moment – really moments, as this was repeated much throughout my childhood, whenever my own step grandfather, the only “second grandfather” I ever knew after my natural one (dad’s father) died five weeks after my birth – would utter the infamous “N” word – my mom made it equally emphatic that her children were to *never* use that word under *any* circumstances. And again, my step-grandfather had been the product of his own generation and location, having been born deep in the Jim Crowe area in the area in the northwest corner of Alabama near Muscle Shoals. But I grew up in the 80s and 90s along the very route of that war criminal terrorist bastard William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. I literally graduated high school within steps of rails of the Great Locomotive Chase at Adairsville and I graduated college in the same town the event had begun in, Kennesaw, Georgia. My college alma mater’s logo for years bore the outline of the mountain made famous during Sherman’s campaign that sits just a few miles from campus. My hometown, along the rails of the Locomotive Chase roughly halfway between the two, literally still bears the scars of Sherman’s actions via former train track pylons in the Etowah River whose tracks his men destroyed. And yet despite being steeped in so much history just from growing up where I did, my parents taught me *very* different lessons than what so much of society then and now wanted to preach. Growing up on the lower end of middle class (if we were even that high), I was shielded from the worst effects of American poverty – which is admittedly a much higher standard of living than the truly abject poverty I’ve seen even in my adult travels in the Caribbean. While I grew up in a trailer until just after I turned 12, my parents made it a point that we would always have food, clothing, shelter, and each other. Yes, this was helped at times by family (including my farmer/ hunter grandfather who would give us enough venison to last the winter, and who himself had not only survived the Battle of the Bulge, but had won a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions there… and then *never spoke of them*, not in the 20 years I knew the man and apparently not even in the 40+ my mother knew her own father). So with regards to *race*, I was taught to neither see nor treat anyone any differently at all, and any time I fell out of that standard the standard was very pointedly reinforced. With regards to *socioeconomic status*… other than one cousin (in a *very* large family) that I never really knew, I am the first to actually graduate college in my family. And thus in going from trailer park kid to now Assistant Vice President of a Forbes 50 company… I’ve seen a bit along the way. 😉 But that is an entirely different story.
Read Emily’s book. It really is excellent, and she really is a truly amazing storyteller. My point with the above is more that hers, and the common media narrative, are not the *only* stories of my homeland and its people. And I urge you to seek out others, perhaps more similar to my own, as well.
But stop reading this and go read Emily’s book. 😀
Beware The Mathivores. And Stewart’s Myopia. Ok, so the title of this review is a bit of a spoiler, as a “Mathivore” is a creature Stewart describes in the final chapter while summarizing the book. But it doesn’t *actually* give anything away, and it makes for an interesting title to the review. (One suspects it wouldn’t have worked as well for the title of the book, though I think it would have been awesome. :D) Beyond that, I also find it interesting that the only other review on Goodreads for this book at the time I am writing this one is from a historian with a bare knowledge of mathematics, and I am actually a mathematician (though nowhere near as degreed as Stewart, having just a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and lacking a handful of classes for separate Bachelor’s degrees in both Mathematics and Secondary Mathematics Education) with a fair knowledge of history. More than a “normal” person, likely much less – at least in some areas – than the other reviewer. ANYWAY, y’all care about what this book is about, not about me. 😀 But my background does play a bit into my own experience with the book, so I thought a brief summary was warranted.
With this book, Stewart *mostly* does a truly remarkable job of showing the history and current uses of math, in many ways many may not be aware of or at minimum fully aware of. With my background, I knew that there was *some* form of math in the background of most of the techs and issues Stewart discusses, but Stewart goes full-bore on the details, yes, quite often showing samples of the actual equations – or at least types of the actual equations – involved. And these are far beyond E=MC^2, y’all. 😉 But still, Stewart’s explanations, at least to my own mathematically inclined brain, were straightforward enough, and there is enough humor (of the British variety) sprinkled throughout to make the overall text much more palatable to the average reader.
But there *are* a couple of weaknesses even from my own perspective, and they combined to knock the book down a star – neither by themselves was quite enough, but combined they are.
The first is that while Stewart does a remarkable job of showing how math is integral to so many fields from elections to medical scanning to photography to fingerprinting, he doesn’t do so well in showing how it shapes everyday life outside of the tech people use and the things going on around them. He doesn’t show how people actually *use* math every day, from calculating how much a trip will take to estimating their grocery bill or restaurant tab to deciding any of the numerous factors related to personal finance and building or maintaining any form of home. Perhaps a follow-on book could explain how these maths shape even more people’s lives.
The second is Stewart’s Myopia. By this, I mean those issues where the Professor. At several key points – likely not caught by someone less familiar with the mathematics of the fields – Stewart dismisses advances in mathematics that oppose his positions. In one, while there is indeed still much work to be done, Stewart’s disdain for autonomous cars belies the stunning advances made in mathematics related to the field. In the other big one, Stewart seems completely ignorant of the emerging mathematics showing the many varying holes in the current “Climate Change” “science” – including some written by a man who quite literally wrote one of the first textbooks on climate modeling with computers. Another, more obscure one, was where Stewart mentions numeracy and Bayesian statistics, but seems ignorant of Bernoulli’s Fallacy (or at minimum dismissive of those who pursue that line of mathematical thinking).
Overall, this *is* a strong book with quite a bit to be commended. It could simply have been a bit stronger. Very much recommended.
Intriguing Premise. Fascinating Start. Back Half Marred By Politics And Questionable Scholarship. This book had an utterly fascinating premise, one I’ve read a couple of other books over the last year in the same arena – the history of wood and palm oil in those prior books. And y’all, the front half of this book, mostly concerned with prehistory, was *awesome*. Roberts tracks how the development of what we now call in English “jungle” began in the earliest geological eras of plant life, through the time of the dinosaurs, and into the evolution of humanity from our earliest barely-more-than-ape forebears to modern Homo Sapien Sapien.
But then we get into the first millennium ish AD and Roberts turns his focus to the native populations of the Americas – and blaming Columbus specifically and Europe generally for every ill to come since. Even while noting cases where conquest would not have been possible except that certain elements of the native populations betrayed other elements for their own personal power. Ok. Still has some solid points about the interrelationship between humans and jungle here, but even here the politics is quite heavy handed – though admittedly typical for elitist academics and perfectly in line with that level of thought.
Coming into much more recent times – within my lifetime ish, since the 1980s – Roberts goes deeper into the politics, even openly praising Greta Thunberg (a bit ironic, given Roberts’ own actual academic pedigree vs Thunberg’s lack of one). But worse than that, he actively gets a bit lax with his scholarship through this point, noting the spread of Ebola into the US during the 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak… without acknowledging that it was (mostly) active – and *safe* (as safe as anything *can* be with Ebola) – efforts by the US government to bring US nationals back to within the US for treatments. Instead, the implication from the author is that this was more direct results of lackadaisical regulations and rampant environmental destruction. He also (accurately) notes the 3,000 people killed by Hurricane Maria in 2017… without noting that Hurricane Irma had come through many of the same regions as an even stronger storm just two weeks prior, causing quite a bit of damage that ultimately led to a larger loss of life than normal when a second major hurricane (Maria) came through so soon after. (Disclaimer here: I moved to northern Florida in August 2017, barely a month before Irma and barely 6 weeks before Maria. I had a planned cruise in November 2017 to San Juan and St Maarten, among others, moved to Aruba and Curacao due to the combined effects of the two storms.)
Finally, in perhaps the most glaring questionable fact in the entire text, Roberts points to COVID-19 case counts “as of the end of July 2021”. Except that I’m writing this review on July 15, 2021, almost exactly halfway into the month down to the minute, and I’ve had this book in ARC form since May 12, 2021. (And I should note that this book appeared to be mostly completely print ready at that time, though the publisher and author may claim that there were indeed a few more edits since that point.) Even if one assumes that this particular line was placed in the book by say May 10, at the very latest stages before making it available on NetGalley (where I got it), and even if one assumes that the actual number at hand is accurate (I have no real reason to doubt it, though I personally stopped paying attention to these particular numbers over a year ago), wouldn’t it have been better scholarship to note that the case count was “as of the end of May 2021”? Or was the author projecting and hoping this either wasn’t noticed, that he would be proven correct prior to publication (still almost exactly two months away, as this book is currently shown to publish on September 14, 2021 at the time of writing this review), or that this particular fact could be updated prior to publication with the actual number? None of those three options point to the same level of scholarship of the beginning of the book, and indeed the fact of their existence brings into doubt all prior points and presumed merits. Thus, including that particular fact ultimately does more harm to the entire text than even the most blatant of political biases displayed earlier in the text.
Still, ultimately this was a very approachable text that even when taking into account its standard academic biases generally presents an intriguing look into the history and development of humanity, and it actually has a respectable bibliography, clocking in at around 26% of the text. Thus the book is still ultimately recommended for that alone. Just… make sure you read other competing books in the same area in addition to this one.
Post Script: While looking for the author’s website for the blog version of this review, I found out that the author is indeed a seeming expert *in prehistoric jungles*, having published several articles in peer reviewed journals over the last decade. But nearly every single article listed on his website deals with the prehistoric era, which perhaps explains the difference in how excellent this particular book was when it was discussing this particular era vs the problems that began mostly when he left it. Which is leaving me, for one, *very* interested in a follow up book expanding on the first half of this one with even more details, perhaps, of the environments, fauna, and flora of these prehistoric eras the author seems to know so well.
Interesting Overview. Needs Bibliography. It is actually somewhat interesting to me that of five reviews on Goodreads prior to this one, one of the reviewers specifically notes a lack of footnotes as a *good* thing… and this very thing is actually pretty well the only thing I could find to *ding* this text on. But I’m fairly consistent in that – no matter what, I expect a fact-based (vs more memoir-based) nonfiction title to include and reference a decent sized bibliography.
That noted, the substance of this text was well-written, approachable, at times amusing, and full of facts from a wide range of eras that this reader had not previously known. Even in the chapter on the development of driverless cars – much more thoroughly documented in DRIVEN by Alex Davies – there were a few facts that even having read that book and being a professional software developer (and thus more generally aware of tech than some), I genuinely didn’t know before reading this book. Preceding chapters tracing the development of transportation during the 19th and early 20th centuries in particular were utterly fascinating, as was later coverage of the potential future for a car-less society. Remarkably well balanced, the text tends to steer clear – pun absolutely intended – of various relevant controversies (climate change, Peak Oil, Peak Car, autonomous vehicles, car-less society, etc) even while discussing said controversies’ impact on society and future developments. Truly a solid examination of its topic, and very much recommended.
Before You Talk About The Student Loan Problem, Read This Book. Here, Mitchell does a phenomenal job of going from the very beginning – before World War I even – and showing just how the student loan problem grew from a well-intentioned idea into the massive debt bomb that we are now struggling with at all levels. Other than one short, couple of pages – if that – section near the end, Mitchell keeps all personal ideas and politics out of the narrative, instead focusing on as objective a reporting of the events as they unfolded as I’ve ever seen. Indeed, there are only two things that I can think to ding him on at all here, and neither one quite warrants a star reduction:
1) Throughout the narrative, particularly once his timeline gets into the 1990s and 2000s eras, Mitchell doesn’t account for the rise of State-sponsored lottery-funded scholarship programs. Though upon a bit of research, it seems that these only exist primarily in the Southeast: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia. Though I’ve lived in three of those States and had my college funded by Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship – it is at least plausible that anyone living outside of those States, or without close friends or family in them, has never heard of these programs. (And yet even with HOPE, I still managed to amass a $20K student debt load that had ballooned to nearly $40K before I began actively repaying it – upon threat of legal action – largely due to exactly the forces Mitchell describes in this text, but mostly because I was an idiotic 18yo and it was “free money”. Though I’m proud to note that as of this moment, I have less than the various forgiveness amounts that are being bandied about in DC – which Mitchell also covers, in a near up-to-the-minute fashion, even 2 months before publication of this book. An amount that I *will* pay off before the current suspension of interest – signed by President Trump and extended by President Biden – expires, currently slated for less than two months after this book is published.)
2) The Bibliography is a bit scant at only about 15% of the text, though there is a decent portion of the book – focusing on a singular case study in recurring episodes throughout the narrative – where Mitchell conducted extensive interviews and examinations of the relevant documents personally.
Overall truly an excellent, objective look at the history and many factors that have created today’s student loan problem. And as GI Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”. Very much recommended.
Interesting History Marred By Marxist Politics And Alarmist Propaganda. In the description of this book, it is claimed that we will get a look at history, science, road trip, and philosophy as it relates to Freon and its history. Well, the philosophy is avowed Marxism (even quoting Marx directly to begin one of the sections) and the “science” is mostly alarmist “Global Cooling” / “Global Warming” / “Climate Change” junk wherein he cites in part some of the very studies that Stephen Koonin’s Unsettled – released just weeks earlier – shows to be problematic at best. And unlike Wilson, Koonin is an actual climate scientist, one who worked at a high level under Barack Obama, no less. Instead, Wilson outright declares that it is the stuff of nightmares to think that any form of warming is natural, that man *must* be the cause of *all* warming and that we *must* thus be able to stop it.
These factors noted – and seriously, if you can’t stomach a fatal dose of Marxist ideology, don’t bother reading this book – the history presented here, even while presented fully rooted in anti-white, anti-capitalist screed form, is actually interesting and worthy of discovery by those who may not be aware of it, such as myself when going into this book. The road trip episodes that frame each section are interesting in and of themselves, as Wilson tags along with a friend who is buying up stockpiles of Freon American Pickers style in order to destroy them to claim the carbon credits under California’s Cap and Trade system.
There is a compelling story to tell in the need for better ways to cool and comfort, and there are promising techs and strategies that don’t rely on Marxism and government mandate to achieve them. Unfortunately this book ignores all of this.
Finally, the citations and bibliography… are minimal, for such fantastical claims, accounting for barely 15% of the text, and are rarely directly cited within the narrative itself.
It is because of all of these factors that I am quite comfortable with the 2* – without the history and road trip, it would have been half even that – and would be lower than even that, were such possible on review sites. Not recommended.
Unfortunately my string of being plagued by writer’s block continues, but here is the Goodreads review:
Biography – By Way Of Biographies. This was a very interesting read, if primarily for the narrative structure D’Anieri chose in writing it. Here, the author doesn’t set out to provide a “definitive history” of the Trail or the technical details of how it came to be. Instead, he profiles key players in the development of the Trail as it has come to exist now and shows how their lives and thoughts and actions proved pivotal in how the Trail got to where it is. Overall a fascinating book about a wide range of people and attitudes about the boundary of civilization and wilderness, written in a very approachable style – much like much of the Trail itself. Very much recommended.
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.